Get off my back.
Joe Fletcher, you’re free to stay there.
But the monkey … you’re going to have to go.
The 60-minute duel between Tewaaraton Trophy finalists Lyle Thompson of UAlbany and Loyola’s Fletcher lived up to its billing, but the monkey the Great Danes got off their back was the belief that they’re just a high-scoring offensive machine that can live with less-than-mediocre defense.
The poised Great Danes put together the total package on Saturday afternoon, beating the top-ranked and third-seeded Greyhounds, the 2012 national champions, in front of a capacity crowd on their home field, 13-6.
Yep, Thompson and his brother, Miles, boosted their scoring totals to a level that is 1-2 all-time for a single season in Division I history, and their cousin, Ty, scored three goals. Standard stuff, really.
Forget the Great Danes’ eight-game winning streak. What gives UAlbany real momentum heading into the NCAA quarterfinals against Notre Dame next Saturday is the fact that their goalie, Blaze Riorden, was the best player on the field, in part because his defense played its best game of the season against a team ranked fifth behind national leader UAlbany in scoring.
I watched the broadcast on ESPNU, and analyst Paul Carcaterra gushed words like “insane” and “ridiculous” about the Thompsons’ scoring prowess. And it was.
But UAlbany kept everything tight at both ends and kept the Greyhounds at arm’s length, never leading by fewer than two goals after it was 2-1 late in the first quarter.
“Last year, we were happy to be in the tournament, but this year, we feel we are capable of winning it,” Miles Thompson said. “This was our best game of the year because of our defense.”
Fletcher is the best lacrosse defenseman in the country, and spent the afternoon leaning all over Lyle Thompson, who would get my vote for best player in the country, if I had one. He won’t need it, anyway.
With seconds left in the first half, UAlbany led, 6-3, and gave it to Thompson to create some of the magic he and his brother and cousin concoct on a routine basis.
With his back to the goal and Fletcher on top of him, mirroring every stutterstep and juke, Thompson faked a pass back away from the goal.
In a blink, he turned back to his right and flung a one-handed lefty line drive that goalie Jack Runkel was helpless to stop for a 7-3 lead. I almost felt sorry for Fletcher, like you do for the guy who is all over Kevin Durant and gets a hand in his face, only to watch that impossible 20-foot turnaround swish through like it’s nothing.
Fletcher didn’t go away in the second half, hounding and pounding UAlbany’s imperturbable junior attackman, but the Greyhounds did go away.
As he did on Loyola’s first possession of the game, Riorden made a huge save to start the second half.
A 36-minute lightning delay in the third quarter only prolonged the inevitable.
The final goal was a perfect three-bolt tic-tac-toe, Miles to Lyle to Ty, after which it was easy to see three grins through the mouthguards and cages.
Head coach Scott Marr and his team have been assuring everyone that the Great Danes’ defense has been playing better, and Saturday’s game was clear evidence that it isn’t just hollow rhetoric despite the fact that they don’t even crack the top-50 in fewest goals allowed.
The faceoff stats weren’t great, but UAlbany was 25-for-25 on clears and did not allow more than two goals in any of the four quarters.
Most observers considered the UAlbany-Loyola matchup to be the best of the eight first-round games. Sorry, but it was utterly devoid of drama.
Via Inside Lacrosse Magazine, Loyola head coach Charley Toomey said, “I just told coach Marr, ‘Go win this thing, because you’re good enough.’ ”