By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
For those who like indoor lacrosse for its frequent scoring and quick transitional play, Saturday night was not your night.
That was just fine with the Philadelphia Wings.
They set the tempo during the game with the Buffalo Bandits for the most part, and were rewarded with a 7-6 victory before 12,459 in the KeyBank Center.
This was a contest that was essentially played in one end or the other – half-court offenses, to use a basketball term – without much coast-to-coast activity. That kept the scoring down to the point where a good defensive effort by the Bandits went for naught.
“When you hold a team to seven, you have to find a way to score more than seven,” coach John Tavares said. “It was definitely the game that we were anticipating. I was predicting an 8-7 game. I was two goals short.”
The Bandits never led in the game, and that helped the Wings sit back on defense and allow Buffalo to not get near the Philadelphia goal. As a result, the Bandits frequently took shots from long range. Goalie Zach Higgins – picked up in an offseason trade with Buffalo – good looks at the incoming shots. He stopped 44 of 50 shots.
“Zach played well, but the offense didn’t get on the floor enough,” said Steve Priolo, who returned to action after recovering from an eye injury suffered when a ball went through his mask.
“We were on the perimeter quite a bit,” Tavares said. “We were not penetrating their defense very much. That’s definitely something that is concerning, because it’s definitely tough to win lacrosse games when you don’t penetrate. We’ve got to find a way to get it in tighter. Higgins did his job. He made the saves he had to make, and a few others as well.”
It didn’t help the Bandits’ situation that they were missing two of their top offensive weapons. Dhane Smith usually is at the center of the offensive attack, as he usually distributes the ball to the rest of the offense. Smith is really good at it too. Chase Fraser also was forced to sit this one out. That put 68 of the team’s points this season in the proverbial ice box.
“Obviously when you lose, those two guys are huge pieces of our offense,” Corey Small said. “But as a team, we’re going to face adversity throughout the year. We can’t let this situation be one that holds us back. Two guys go out, and that gives two other guys an opportunity to step up and maybe earn a spot down the road. We struggled early. This isn’t the unit we use every week. It took us a while to get our feet under us, but in the second half we looked a lot better.”
Small broke through in the second half to score three goals. Garrett Billings had a goal and three assists. Otherwise, there wasn’t a whole lot going on.
Not helping the situation was one of the oddest plays in memory. It came late in the second quarter, with Buffalo trailing by a 4-2 margin. The Bandits were short-handed when Billings let a shot go with very little time left on the 30-second shot clock. The ball wound up in the net, and that’s where it got interesting.
After a review, the officials ruled that – while it was really close – the ball didn’t enter the net until after the 30-second limit had expired. It’s not like basketball, where a shot that is in the air is allowed to be completed even if the shot clock expires. However, a reading of the rulebook would seem to imply that a “shot” turns into a “shot on goal” as soon as it hits the goalie or goes into the net. Tavares tried to argue that if the ball touched Higgins before 30 seconds had elapsed, the shot clock should be reset at that point and the goal should count. He lost.
“I was complaining that the ball hit the goalie before the 30-second clock expired,” Tavares said. “I wanted to know if he could see there was enough evidence that the shot clock expired before it hit the goalie and went past him.
“I read the rule at halftime. Was there enough evidence? Mark (Gardonio, the crew chief of officials) said there was. I said thank you. I believed him because the referee has to be 100 percent sure that there was enough evidence to overturn it. I did say I was going to watch it a few times.”
The danger in that situation was that having a short-handed goal wiped out – on a night when little was going right on offense – could have been very deflating. Small thought the team handled that part of it reasonably well.
“In any games there are going to be ups and downs, and things aren’t always going to go your way,” he said. “You’ve got to stay even keel, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that.”
And the Bandits eventually did do enough scoring to get the lead down to one, and had the ball in the final in the 30 seconds. But the team couldn’t get the tying goal.
Bandits can not score the tying goal in the final seconds. pic.twitter.com/8h6LtvqMb2
— Budd Bailey (@WDX2BB) February 16, 2020
“We had two plays, usually just designed for one of our guys to get an open look, whether it’s a righty or a lefty,” Small said. “It’s a pretty traditional pick play. A lot of teams probably do it, but it’s worked for us in the past. Earlier in the year we got Josh open for some goals. That was the plan again. When you’re short a couple of guys, you have new guys in those positions that haven’t been there before. So it’s a bit of a learning experience.”
Buffalo’s record fell to 6-3 after its second straight loss. The Bandits have a bye week to get some of the wounded players back. Halifax returns to town on Feb. 29.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)