Buckeyes in Boston! On Saturday, Ohio State beat Duke to as the program booked their first trip to championship weekend. It was a banner weekend for the Big Ten, as they sent two teams to the final weekend of the season.
The final score is a bit deceiving. Ohio State dominated this game start to finish. It was a complete performance that has to give Buckeye fans some confidence going into their next round matchup with the Towson Tigers.
I don’t know if anyone would argue with calling Eric Fannell the star of the game. Indeed, he came in at #2 in our list of this weekend’s top individual performances.
What we thought going in
Duke entered this game off a dominating victory over Johns Hopkins, while Ohio State dispatched Loyola in the first round. Duke was getting a lot of press based on their reputation as late-bloomers. Our Lax-ELO model thought that Ohio State had a 39% chance of winning this game at the outset.
What actually happened
In fact, Nick Myers led his Ohio State team to a fairly resounding victory over the Blue Devils. It was a game that wasn’t as close as the final score suggests. The Buckeyes took an 8-goal lead into the final quarter.
The thing that really tipped the scales was Ohio State’s 9 goals scored off of face-off wins. In one stretch during the second quarter they scored 6 goals on possessions where Withers won the face off. In those possessions, they attacked quickly, taking a first shot after only 26 seconds (on average).
In totality, Duke was not remarkably far off of their season offensive averages. But that muddies the water a bit too much. As we mentioned, this game was over before the 4th quarter started, but 6 of Duke’s goals came in the 4th stanza when the game was out of reach. They scored on 5 of 20 possessions (25%) in the first three periods.
In-game win odds
This animated chart shows the in-game win odds. The line shows the chance of Ohio State winning the game, measured after each individual recorded play.
Non-obvious Keys to the Victory
This was a key part of our preview of this game, but Ohio State had a very juicy face-off opportunity here. And it’s not as if it was because of a wide gap between the two face off men. Rowe and Withers are both top 15 FOGOs, and while Ohio State did had a 5 face-off advantage, that’s not enough to explain their victory.
What got us interested in the face-off match up was actually how both units enjoyed very different levels of success on face off possessions. With respect to Duke, we wrote:
[Face-off performance] is going to be a big part of any Ohio State preview, but it takes on added importance against Duke because their top 5 defense is magically transformed into a more pedestrian 23rd on possessions that start with the Blue Devils losing a faceoff.
As for the Buckeyes:
Overall, they score on 29% of their offensive possessions. For possessions that start with a face off win, that number is 38%. When people talk about make-it-take-it lacrosse, they are talking about Jake Withers and the Ohio State offense, 2017 vintage.
And in fact, we see Ohio State scoring 9 goals on 17 possessions that started with a face-off win. This wasn’t a game that was decided by FOGO play. Ohio State just executed better. But the face-off tendencies for both teams represented a very helpful tailwind.