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NCAA Lacrosse Tournament: Rob Pannell's Pursuit of 353 Points Reaches Its Apex

What was a chase that was in jeopardy in early April is now almost complete.

Mitchell Layton

The Big Red were cruising in early April –- Cornell was 9-1 with the lone blemish on the record due to a snow-driven loss to Bucknell on Schoellkopf Field (a game played without the services of Steve Mock) –- but Rob Pannell, the combustion engine that drives the Red’s offense, was losing his battle with history: Having generated 54 points through 10 games, the attackman was falling behind the pace necessary to account for 101 points during the season, the mark necessary to equal Matt Danowski’s record-setting 353 career points. Assuming that Pannell would maintain his 5.4 points per game rate, Cornell would need to play nine more games against tough opponents –- at that point in the season, the Red had four regular season games remaining against assumedly staunch defenses (the remaining regular season games were against defenses then-ranked ninth, 15th, 23rd, and 26th in adjusted defensive efficiency) and the upcoming Ivy League Tournament and The Big Barbecue –- for Pannell to tie or pass Danowski.

100-plus point seasons are hard to achieve. Counting this season, only seven players since 1971 -- Chet Nowak (Air Force, 101 (1981)); Tim Nelson (Syracuse, 103 (1984)); Mike French (Cornell, 105 (1976)); Joe Vasta (Air Force, 108 (1986)); John Grant Jr. (Delaware, 110 (1999)); Lyle Thompson (Albany, 113 (2013)); and Steve Marohl (UMBC, 114 (1992)) –- have generated at least 101 points in a campaign. In the ultra-modern era of college lacrosse (featuring stronger competition throughout the nation and the onus of creating offense against sophisticated defenses and increased video scouting), only Junior and Thompson have accomplished the feat. While it looked promising that Cornell would approach the additional nine games that Pannell would likely need to get to 101 points, the road ahead for the tactical nuclear weapon wasn’t all that promising (both in terms of opposition and the crushing suffocation of history).

And yet, despite all of the barriers, Pannell has responded. The senior has put up 41 points in the Red’s last seven games, averaging 5.86 points per outing. His points -– both over the course of the season and against the teams he has faced in the last seven games –- have mattered: The Red have faced a schedule ranked 16th in opposing defenses faced and his points have been generated against a slate ranked 11th in average opponent Pythagorean win expectation. These are good teams that Pannell is annihilating, and his point generation –- in the context of Cornell’s offensive ability –- has continued to keep the Red among the nation’s hyper elite. He is just six points away from tying Danowski’s mark and could get his name in the newspaper as Division I’s most prolific point-generator as early as Saturday’s date against Duke in the national semifinals.

There are both conducive and adverse circumstances facing Pannell in his pursuit to earn six points on Semifinal Saturday:

  • Pannell is a prism of offensive ability, generating offense both with his ability to distribute and to make the scoreboard blink on his own. Duke’s defense, a fairly leaky unit, provides strong conditions to get the six points the attackman needs: The Devils rank just 31st in adjusted defensive efficiency, the team ranks 36th in defensive assist rate, opponents shoot 29.14 percent against the Devils (that mark ranks 42nd nationally), and Kyle Turri is beatable in the net (the keeper holds just a 48.7 save percentage). What is especially important about the Duke matchup, though, is that the Devils will run a bit with Cornell, providing a valuable volume of offensive opportunities for Pannell to generate the points necessary to top the leaderboard: Duke plays around 69 possessions per 60 minutes of play and of those opportunities, about 31 occur on the defensive end of the field. Assuming the tempo of the game hangs around 70 possessions and Duke plays with a plus-two possession margin (a rough guess), Cornell’s offense would have about 33 offensive opportunities to get the ball into a position to score; at Pannell’s point generation rate –- adjusted for competition played over a 100-possession basis -- he’s staring at a potential five-point day. An extra assist or point isn’t out of reach for the attackman to summit the mountain.
  • What could erode Pannell’s chances is if Cornell becomes possession-starved. Brendan Fowler is a monster at the dot, and while Doug Tesoriero is a worthy opponent, Duke may have an advantage at possession-generation on the whistle. If the Devils can turn those opportunities into scores (i.e., if Cornell can’t get stops on Duke’s possessions earned from faceoff wins, creating a mirror offensive possession for the Red offense), Pannell may not have enough opportunities with the ball in his crosse to make the magic happen. (Of course, Cornell has been great at turning opponents over this season, so possession margin neutralization could occur in that facet of play, giving Pannell substantial opportunities to get a six-pack of points.) The other issue dominating Pannell’s ability to get those precious six points is the proclivity of Duke’s opponents to turn the ball over: While Cornell may get around 33 offensive opportunities on Saturday, it’s not a given that all of those opportunities will become attack box postures or even end in an acceptable “dead” situation (a goaltender save). Cornell has done a fabulous job at valuing the ball this season –- the team ranks 10th in turnovers per offensive opportunity –- but the possibility still exists that the Red pitch the bean more than usual.

It’ll be close for Pannell against Duke, but if Cornell ultimately beats the Blue Devils –- the Red’s, and Pannell’s, ultimate goal –- the attackman will have another opportunity to make history on Memorial Monday.