March 9, 2013

Syracuse Backer Defense Shuts Down Towson

by Clare Lochary | | Live Blog Replay

Linley Block (above) and sister Becca Block are two important pieces of a Syracuse defense that held Towson scoreless in the second half Saturday afternoon.
© Greg Wall (file)

TOWSON, Md. — Syracuse's powerful offense gets a lot of press, but against No. 16 Towson, it was the Orange defense that got the win. Syracuse (3-2) shut out the Tigers in the second half for a 10-3 victory at Johnny Unitas Stadium using a backer defense to hold Towson (1-3) to a season-low output on goals and shots (13).

"We've been experimenting with that [backer defense] and some other styles of defense, and it was a great call by coach Thorpe who thought it would put this team back on its heels, and it did," Syracuse head coach Gary Gait said.

Senior defender Becca Block led Syracuse with five ground balls and three caused turnovers. She didn't realize the Orange had blanked the Tigers in the second half until after the game was over.

"I looked up and said, 'Whoa, they didn't score at all,'" Block said. "I like that we're allowed to go out there and take risks. Hopefully things will go right, and if they don't, we're so close as a unit that you know somebody's going to have your back. It's just awesome to have that feeling."

Syracuse's typical high-output offense struggled, scoring just four goals on 21 shots in the first half. The Orange built a 3-0 lead midway through the first half before Towson strung together a 3-1 run. At halftime, Syracuse had a slim 4-3 advantage.

"I know I wanted some of those plays back," Orange junior attacker Alyssa Murray said.

But even when Syracuse's shots weren't falling, a tough ride destroyed the Tigers' transition game and gave the Orange a lot of second chances. Towson was just 11 of 23 on clears, and committed a season-high 25 turnovers.

"Syracuse is a very athletic team. They do a good job of shifting in the ride, and supporting pressure. They're good checkers," Towson coach Sonia LaMonica said. "They had a nice defensive game against us playing that backer and it threw our unit off. We could see the opening and we couldn't move the ball fast enough to find it."

The Orange's ride was a focus going into 2013. It's the brainchild of volunteer assistant coach Brett Queener, who works mainly with goalies but has taken on a larger role with the team this season. Towson actually won the draw control battle, 8-7, and sophomore goalkeeper Kelsea Donnelly matched her career-high with 11 saves, but the Tigers' inability to clear the ball neutralized those advantages.

"It's something we've really improved on since last year — when to double and when to bump each other. It's more of a team effort than one person getting a good check, or two people getting a double team. We're all really working together," Murray said.

Murray, along with fellow attacker Michelle Tumolo and midfielder Bridget Daley, combined for five caused turnovers on the ride.

"When they're pressuring the ball, it makes their defenders throw bad passes and we're the ones who get the credit for the stop," Block said.

Tumolo (two goals, one assist) and freshman attacker Kayla Treanor (two goals, one assist) led the Orange attack, which reeled off six unanswered goals in the second half. The win over Towson will help Syracuse shake off the residual effects of last week's 14-10 loss to No. 2 Florida and steel themselves for Big East play, which begins on March 22 versus UConn after a 13-day break.

"We're five games into the season, and we have 12 to go," Gait said. "It's about getting into the playoffs and giving ourselves the chance to make a run at the championship."

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