Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

McCarthy: UMass makes significant offensive improvements, but still needs more

Minutemen offense extremely effective in first half, drops off in second half
Kayla Wong/ Daily Collegian (2023)

Massachusetts men’s lacrosse coach Greg Cannella called his shot on April 15. After weeks of struggling to score, the 29th year Minutemen coach demanded more from his attacking group.

“I have a feeling things are going to change in the next week here in terms of goal scoring,” Cannella said after the win against St. Bonaventure.

On Saturday at Saint Joseph’s, the UMass (7-5, 2-2 Atlantic 10) offense delivered in the first half. Big changes were made both in offensive scheme and shot selection, and the result was one of the Minutemen’s most effective offensive outings of the season. Saturday didn’t look like an offense that was just managing the game and letting the defense carry it; UMass came out in attack mode.

There were two primary factors in the increased scoring success against the Hawks (9-4, 4-0 A-10): the two-man game and threatening shots. Prior to Saturday, the Minutemen offense didn’t have much of an identity. There were a lot of individual efforts and triangle movement, but no real consistency. Often times, UMass went deep into the shot clock before finding an opening to shoot out of, and those attempts lacked quality.

Against St. Joe’s, there was a clear game plan and the Minutemen stuck to it. They shifted in and out of a 2-2-2 offense and paired up to create openings with pick-and-rolls and other two-man actions. Using that, UMass drove to the cage and either took shots or found skip passes, but overall there were far more quality attempts generated from that scheme.

The Minutemen were dodging with much greater purpose on Saturday as well. Not just dodging to try and get their hands free for a shot, but making those moves to create space for their teammates. With the second quarter clock winding down, Mike Tobin created a goal for Grant Breyo by driving hard and drawing a double-team. Rather than fighting through it and looking for a goal as he’s done in the past, Tobin instead found Shane O’Leary, who sent a skip pass back towards Breyo for a clear look at the net. Breyo’s effective step-down shot sealed the deal on a key goal for UMass.

Paired perfectly with that was a significant improvement in shot placement. Too often early in the season the Minutemen wasted good looks with a shot directly at the stick of the opposing goaltender. Very rarely was that the case on Saturday. UMass was actively shooting away from Hawks goalie Shayne Ryan, who only made nine saves on the day.

Hitting four posts in the first half was certainly a stroke of bad luck, but it was also indicative of a team actively placing its shots towards the corners of the net. If a shot isn’t going to fall in, I’d say it’s better to ring one off the pipe than put it right at the goalie’s chest. And even with those four posts, the Minutemen still put up seven goals in the first half.

There’s still plenty of room for growth with this offense, though. UMass still needs to cut down on turnovers and sustain its momentum for a whole 60 minutes. The Minutemen scored three goals in the second half and were held scoreless in the fourth quarter. That stumble allowed St. Joe’s to get back into the game and hold on for the 11-10 win.

Those two glaring weaknesses should be points of emphasis during the next week of practice, but I also don’t think it should diminish what UMass was able to do in Philadelphia. This wasn’t a moral victory; it was a significant and effective adjustment to a lackluster offense.

Having a good defense alone won’t be enough to send UMass to an NCAA tournament. The offense needed to be improved and with this new trajectory, the spark might have come at the perfect time.

The Minutemen have their final regular season game against Hobart on Friday before heading into the A-10 tournament with an automatic bid into the national postseason up for grabs. They’ll have to knock off at least one, and more likely both Richmond and St. Joe’s during the conference tournament to get that bid.

But, if today showed anything, it’s that UMass is capable of beating those teams. The Minutemen offense just can’t disappear in the second half. If they can turn the first half on Saturday into 60 effective minutes, they’ll be in good shape.

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.

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