Men's Lacrosse

Yale’s Ben Reeves ‘one of the best in the country,’ to face No. 2 Syracuse

Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Ben Reeves is one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the top collegiate player. The junior attack averages 5.2 points per game.

Growing up outside of Rochester, New York, Ben Reeves routinely texted his high school coach after midnight to work out in an old barn. He’d shoot there until 2 a.m. His father, Bob, once came home from work after a snowstorm to find Reeves had shoveled a 40-by-40 foot area in the family backyard so he could shoot and run.

Those workouts laid the groundwork for a kid who grew into one of the best offensive players in the country. By eighth grade, Reeves played varsity at Palmyra-Macedon (New York) High School. Syracuse never recruited him despite the 278 career goals and 307 assists for 585 points, good for second in New York state history.

Yale returns four of its top five scorers from 2016, including Reeves, who this week was named one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, which is given to the top collegiate player. He’s the only returning finalist from last season, when he ranked third in Division I with 4.9 points per game and fourth in total points (79). Reeves leads the Bulldogs (10-5, 5-1 Ivy) in scoring and ranks fifth in the country at 5.21 points per game. The former Ivy League Rookie of the Year and 2017 Ivy League Player of the Year will pose as No. 2 Syracuse’s (12-2, 4-0 Atlantic Coast) most difficult matchup this season, Sunday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament inside the Carrier Dome.

“He does everything,” SU head coach John Desko said. “He distributes well, he dodges well. He’s a very complete player, not the easiest guy to cover. He’s one of the best in the country.”

Syracuse senior defender Scott Firman will guard Reeves, as he has done with other leading attacks this year. Firman has limited Tewaararton Award finalist and Albany junior Connor Fields, Johns Hopkins junior Shack Stanwick and Notre Dame sophomore Ryder Garnsey (all left-handers) to below their season averages.

Reeves is a left-hander, like Fields and Maryland’s Matt Rambo, also Tewaararton Award finalists. Yet he can dodge and shoot equally as well going to his right. Unlike traditional attacks who operate behind the cage, Reeves plays at the X, up top, and on the wings. He sweeps to the goal like a midfielder and feeds as well as anybody.

Reeves uses his 6-foot-2 frame near the crease and from distance to make it difficult for goalies to pick up the angle of his shot. Yale’s offense performs best when Reeves is a dual threat against man-to-man defense. Against zones, he can spend most of the time below goal-line extended to pick apart the defense as a quarterback.

He did so against Bryant on March 5, posting zero goals but four assists. He ran toward the cage a couple of times, but the packed-in defense limited his room. Syracuse has increasingly played zone midway through games and could throw that at Reeves to mix it up. It worked for Bryant, which beat Yale 9-6. 

Reeves is an initiator against man defense and a zone-busing stretch shooter who can bump form the X to high wing. Against Massachusetts on March 7, he scored once when he gained a step off of a pick. From the high wing, he works on short sticks. By starting at the wing and moving toward the middle — rather than from X to up-field — he forces defenders to slide earlier. It’s that dodge movement that gets zones rotating and players out of place, as Reeves scored a game-high four goals in an 11-9 loss to the Minutemen.

Ric Beardsley, a four-time SU All-American defender and ESPN lacrosse analyst, said Firman has not defended anybody as good as Reeves. Based on film he has seen, Beardsley said Firman’s best bet is to force Reeves to run to the net. Make him score. Make him dodge to shoot. Get up on his hands when he catches the ball and “make him hurt you off of a dodge, not a feed. Or worse: both.”

Yale head coach Andy Shay remembers seeing Reeves at an Under Armour tryout. He knew then that Reeves would be at least a “very good college player.” Shay’s junior attack has since grown more explosive, more mobile, more knowledgeable and more important in Yale’s seventh-ranked offense eyeing an upset over Syracuse on Sunday night.

“He’s exceeding his own expectations and mine,” Shay said. “He’s a great shooter, great feeder. We really take advantage of that.”

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