There are few teams in the country that approach the level of play that Cornell exudes on a game-in and game-out basis: A multi-faceted offense featuring a host of capable and intelligent weapons that work in concert to make the scoreboard blink and impose crushing depression on opposing goaltenders; a defense that is undervalued and features individual talents -- Jason Noble, Thomas Keith, and a host of others -- that are efficient, create offense, and are surging at the right time of the year; and a coaching staff that is well-prepared, passionate, and focused on putting their players in positions to succeed. The Big Red are a legitimate national title contender this season (the program is seeking its fourth championship, the first since Cornell sat atop the college lacrosse hierarchy in 1977), and it isn't just that their balance is among the nation's hyper-elite -- it's also that they have the best player in the collegiate game in Rob Pannell, arguably the most dynamic and important offensive player Division I has seen since Mike Powell was crushing faces with Syracuse.
The Big Red annihilated Ohio State at Byrd Stadium in the national quarterfinals (the same site that the Big Red curbstomped Maryland a week prior in the first round of the NCAA Tournament), a 16-6 victory that propelled Cornell to the Final Four. The Red's trip to Championship Weekend marks the fourth time in the last seven seasons that Cornell has advanced to college lacrosse's biggest event. Sustained by Steve Mock's nuclear-powered first half (the attackman pumped in seven goals over the game's first 30 minutes of play) and Pannell's dominance (the Tewaaraton Award candidate put together a two-goal, six-assist performance and his mere presence created problems for Ohio State's defense), the Red jumped out to a 6-1 lead at the end of the first quarter, accelerated its lead to a 11-3 cushion at the half, and never let Ohio State back into the game in the second half. Cornell performed at an exceptional level all day -- not just relative to the Buckeyes' performance, but relative to what the rest of the country has displayed this season -- and will make the trip to Philadelphia next weekend playing some of its best lacrosse.
Here are some brief notes on the game:
- Ohio State's defensive execution for the first half (and stages of the second half (it could have been worse over the final 30 minutes of play if Cornell didn't mitigate its offensive fervor)) was a disaster. Rob Pannell was left to operate without much aggravation, Red offensive players -- notably Steve Mock -- were often left unmarked due to late rotations to help and overt ball watching, and Greg Dutton had a decidedly tough time stopping shots (partly because Cornell was unleashing attempts from preferable shooting locations, partly because Dutton wasn't on his game). The Buckeyes' implementation of a zone defense was an illustration of a car engulfed in flames being driven through a nitroglycerin factory. The plan that Ohio State put in place to try and control Cornell's offense was, very simply, burned right from the start and the Buckeyes' defense was unable to recover.
- Cornell is at its most dangerous when the Red are able to dominate possession-generation and continually give Rob Pannell the ball to do Rob Pannell ThingsTM. The Big Red were able to exploit those circumstances against Ohio State: Cornell was plus-four in possessions (thanks to a 16-10 advantage at the faceoff dot), allowing the Red to limit its defense from overexposure to Logan Schuss and Ohio State's other offensive headaches; thanks to Pannell creating combustion, Cornell scored on almost 42 percent of their offensive opportunities, generating tallies at a rate that the Buckeyes couldn't match; and Cornell maximized their offensive possessions earned off faceoff wins -- on eight occasions in the first half (four times in both the first and second quarters), the Red scored on the ensuing opportunity created from a faceoff victory, disallowing Ohio State from having an alternating possession. The result of all of this was an eight-goal halftime lead for the Red, buoyed by a 5-0 run (over the final 7:40 of the first quarter) and two multi-goal runs (2-0 and 3-0 (the 3-0 run occurred over the final 4:14 of the first half (the latter two tallies coming at 2:11 and 2:04))).
- A.J. Fiore played great for Cornell, ending about 30 percent of the Red's defensive possessions with a save and holding a 62.50 save percentage. He is becoming an anchor in Cornell's run through the NCAA Tournament.
- Ohio State's offense created some problems for itself -- the team's turnover rate was high and it's mostly attributable to Cornell's ability to dispossess the Buckeyes -- but Ohio State's offense did not perform anywhere near its ability. Jesse King and Logan Schuss each ended the day with three points, but their presence on the field wasn't much of a factor (unlike in the team's run through the ECAC Tournament and against Towson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament). Ohio State shot just 30 percent against Fiore and generated a goal on just around 18 percent of their offensive opportunities; it was a flatline performance when Ohio State needed its offensive unit to try and keep pace with Cornell's light speed offense.
Here's a truncated tempo-free box score:
|Offensive Efficiency (per 100 Offensive Opportunities)||42.11||17.65|
|Shots per Offensive Opportunity||0.97||0.59|
|Offensive Shooting Percentage||43.24%||30.00%|
|Turnovers (per 100 Offensive Opportunities)||52.63||55.88|
|Caused Turnovers (per 100 Defensive Opportunities)||35.29||21.05|
|Unforced Turnovers (per 100 Offensive Opportunities)||31.58||20.59|
|Team Save Percentage||62.50%||33.33%|
|Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities||29.41||21.05|
|Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions||31.58||20.59|