The Virginia men’s lacrosse team knows a thing or two about Robert Morris.
In 2017, UVa head coach Lars Tiffany’s first season on Grounds, the Colonials came to Charlottesville for a game Virginia ultimately won, 13-7. It’s a contest Tiffany won’t soon forget, because before that Saturday in early April he hadn’t seen many offenses faster than his.
“We recognize how dangerous this team can be,” Tiffany said. “We were blown away by how fast they played and how electrifying their transition offense was. We came away from that game going ‘Wow, they’re even more up-tempo than us and they can score goals in bunches.’”
The Colonials put 40 shots on the board that day in Klöckner Stadium and forced Virginia’s goalies to record 21 saves. Virginia shot the ball 49 times. This season, the Cavaliers totaled 712 shots and rank No. 12 in the country with a .315 shooting percentage. Robert Morris put up 716 shots and ranks No. 18 with a .306 shooting percentage.
There should be no shortage of goals Saturday when he Cavaliers host the Colonials in a rematch, but this isn’t the same Virginia team that played with reckless abandon in Tiffany’s first two seasons, and the newly instituted 80-second shot clock is a big part of the reason why.
“We have tempered our tempo,” Tiffany said. “The shot clock has actually slowed us down, and it’s the best thing we could have done.”
The NCAA Rules Committee introduced the shot clock this year in an effort to speed the game up and create more excitement. Tiffany was concerned early on that the new rule would simply allow the rest of the country to catch up to his pace, but it has had the opposite affect. The shot clock actually slowed the Cavaliers down and forced them into a more efficient offensive approach.
“It has helped the overall game be faster,” Tiffany said, “but for Virginia, it has actually helped us be smarter and play with a little more patience.”
This season, Virginia is tied for sixth nationally with 14 goals a game and ranks No. 10 in the country with 8.5 assists per game.
“This is a fortuitous opportunity for our team to now guide our decision making using a metric, the shot clock, as a tool to assess when we’re taking shots,” Tiffany said. “For example, if one of our midfielders takes an outside shot that’s a little deep with 10 seconds left on the shot clock, you say ‘OK that’s appropriate.’ But with 45 seconds on the shot clock, I’m not sure that’s the right decision there.”
Tiffany compared Virginia’s new approach to the one the men’s basketball team rode all the way to a national championship.
“They don’t come down and take the first shot. They do a really good job of understanding where they are in the shot clock and squeezing a few more seconds out of it,” Tiffany said. “Obviously, it helps when [Ty] Jerome is hitting 3-pointers from 25 feet, but we have Dox Aitken and he can do that, too.”
The Cavaliers may need to milk the shot clock on Saturday. Robert Morris averages 13.69 goals a game and ranks No. 5 in the country with 8.81 assists. But Tiffany said that par for the course this time of year.
“It’s playoff time, so you’re going to be playing teams on winning streaks and coming in on a high note,” said Tiffany, referring to Robert Morris’ eight-game winning streak. “For us, this is pure joy to continue being together. The camaraderie of this group is as tight knit as I’ve ever seen.”