(4) Massachusetts v. (3) Towson
Teams don't win the THUNDERDOME! Tournament. Rather, teams survive the THUNDERDOME! Tournament and have scars that tell an interesting tale. The Tigers' wounds reflect a 9-8 victory over Massachusetts, the win pushing Towson into the NCAA Tournament. The Minutemen end their 2015 season with a 5-10 record and a 2-5 mark in their last seven games.
The first half was THUNDERDOME!'s special brand of angst. The teams combined for an estimated 21 possessions -- this is like trudging through the desert in order to find out that the desert never ends and that you'll have to eat your travel partner at some point -- with Towson connecting on about 38 percent of their offensive opportunities and Massachusetts connecting on a quarter of their trips. Neither team shot over 25 percent in the first 30 minutes -- the Tigers were at 22.73 percent and the Minutemen found twine on only 18.18 percent of their 11 shots -- while Massachusetts found the time to turn the ball over on half of their eight estimated offensive opportunities in the first half. But for Zach Oliveri holding a 54.55 save percentage in the first two quarters, making stops on 75 percent of the Minutemen’s estimated defensive possessions, Towson could have entered the intermission with a more substantial lead (the Tigers were plus-five in estimated possession margin in the first half), instead building only a 5-3 advantage at the break.
Towson's inability to snap Massachusetts' neck early in the game would come back to impair the Tigers in the third quarter, a period that featured increased pace and a firm resolve from Massachusetts. The Minutemen scored the first four goals of the third quarter to take a 6-5 lead with 4:37 remaining in the penultimate period with four different players contributing markers in the run. The push from Massachusetts was finally resolved when Mike Lynch hammered the bean past Oliveri to stop the bleeding and even the scoreboard with under three minutes remaining in the stanza. Shortly thereafter, Greg Cuccinello curled from X to blow the ball past Oliveri with 11.2 remaining in the quarter to provide Towson with a slim 7-6 advantage with 15 minutes left to play. With the halftime margin halved, the Tigers and Minutemen found themselves in THUNDERDOME!'s unyielding universe of inimitable pain.
The final stanza was a grind-it-into-dust fist fight. Joe Seider put Towson out ahead 8-6 5:50 into the last quarter. Massachusetts responded with a Dan Muller cooker 46 seconds later and the Minutemen pulled square with the higher-seeded Tigers on a Gianni Bianchin extra-man bucket with 3:36 left in regulation. Towson won the ensuing faceoff and took a shot clock warning, but Justin Mabus was able corral a loose ball in front of the cage to finish with a beautiful behind the back attempt that snuck past Oliveri with only 1:50 showing on the clock. Massachusetts would hold possession the rest of the way, but the Tigers were able to kill the extended possession with Tyler White standing strong in the cage, turning away a shot from Brendan Hegarty at the last second.
Seider lead all scorers with three goals on seven shots. Mabus tallied two goals and an assist to help the Tigers progress to a May adventure. Muller, Hegarty, and Bianchin each had two goals for the Minutemen and Oliveri finished his day with 14 total saves and a 60.87 save percentage.