Someday the Penn State men’s lacrosse team will have its first NCAA tournament victory.
Towson made sure it didn’t happen Saturday afternoon.
The more-experienced Tigers controlled most of the second half and pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 12-8 victory in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Penn State Lacrosse Field.
Despite hat tricks from Grant Ament and Mac O’Keefe, the season came to an end for the Nittany Lions (12-4), who were making their fourth-ever tournament appearance.
“I’m hopeful that the sting of this game will help us look forward,” coach Jeff Tambroni said, “and try to figure out as we pick up the pieces, figure out how to move past this first round.”
O’Keefe’s three scores gave him 51 goals for the season, breaking a 60-year-old program record. Bill Hess had held the standard of 49 since 1957. Nick Aponte added the other two goals to give him 24 for the season.
“Probably one of the best attacks we’ve seen all year, and we knew that coming in,” Towson coach Shawn Nadelen said. “We knew we were going to be challenged. We did a decent job on them. Matt (Hoy) definitely bailed us out on a few.”
Hoy made nine saves for the win.
Joe Seider’s four goals and two assists paced the Tigers (11-4), who head to the quarterfinals next weekend in Newark, Del., facing either Yale or No. 2-seed Syracuse, who play Sunday night. Ryan Drenner added two goals and two assists, and Mike Lynch also had a pair of goals. Tyler Young, Tyler Konen, Dylan Kinnear and Alex Woodall accounted for the other scoring.
Two Ament goals in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter had the game knotted 7-7 but, not long after, Towson responded with three unanswered scores in less than three minutes —two from Lynch and the other from Drenner — to give the Colonial Athletic Association champions a win in their NCAA opener for the third straight season.
“They never let the momentum of our (scoring) swing get to them,” Ament said. “They kind of just stood the course.”
The Tigers could be patient because they had the edge in experience. The program has been in 14 Division I tournaments and has won 10 games. Just a year ago they advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals after upsetting No. 2-seed Denver on the road.
“We just looked back and brought our experience to the table,” Drenner said. “Being in the fourth quarter of a close game, especially an NCAA game, you need that experience. I think we dug down and found it within ourselves to keep pushing forward and staying focused.”
Towson also wore down Penn State. The Tigers held a 43-23 shot advantage, had what felt like a 2-to-1 edge in possession time, and several times when the Lions did get the ball and started the other way, Towson would knock the ball free and return to the offensive end. The Tigers forced 13 turnovers to their own 10.
“They seemed to control the pace of the game,” said Ament, who finished the season with 30 goals. “We’re a fast offense. We kind of like to get up and down quick. We knew they were a slow-it-down-kind-of-paced offense. Obviously, it’s frustrating and we tried to do as much as we could.”
Towson had a 22-13 lead in shots in the first half, but never led and trailed 4-3 at halftime.
The Tigers just had to figure out how to beat goalie Colby Kneese, who made 16 saves.
“We just took smarter shots,” Seider said. “I think in the first I was taking shots that were a little bit further outside of my range. As a team, in the second half, we just knew when to take the right shot.”
The season was still filled with plenty of highlights for the Nittany Lions. They opened the year with 10 straight wins and rose to the nation’s unanimous No. 1 for the first time in program history, then got to play in their first NCAA tournament game since 2013. Despite seeing 10 seniors depart, they will bring back an arsenal of weapons to remain a national contender, and perhaps finally get that first postseason victory.
“They worked really hard to get to that point,” Tambroni said, “and instilled that sense of belief, the championship-type culture that needed to be instilled here and I think is here now. We just have to take the ball and keep running with it.”