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Good friends and Rivals Jeff Teat and Dhane Smith are Neck and Neck for the NLL Scoring Title

As the National Lacrosse League regular season winds down, there is a battle going on for playoff berths and seeding. At the same time, there is also an individual race heating up as Dhane Smith of the Buffalo Bandits and Jeff Teat of the New York Riptide are battling for the scoring title and a potential record.

It’s about as close of a race that you can ask for, reminiscent of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chasing Roger Maris’ homerun record in 1998.

After Week 16, Teat has the lead with 105 points on 45 goals and 61 assists.

Smith is eight points back with 27 goals and 71 assists for 98 points.  Smith, who has already won multiple NLL scoring titles and holds the league single season points record of 137 (2016), is aware of the battle with Teat but his primary objective is the Bandits competing for a championship.

“Anytime you can have a few guys battling for the same thing, it’s good for the league,” said Smith, the reigning and two-time NLL Most Valuable Player.

“My main goal is to win a championship and I know putting up points is a big part of that. I’m really focused on making the playoffs and winning championships. Jeff is early in his career and this is a huge deal for him.”

Smith and the Bandits are among the contenders for this season’s NLL championship as they are 10-3 heading into Saturday night’s game against the Seals in San Diego (10:30pm ET ESPNews/ESPN+/TSN+).

Meanwhile, Teat and the 4-9 Riptide have won two in a row and continue their playoff push when they welcome the Georgia Swarm to the Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night (7:30pm ET ESPN+/TSN+). Teat and Smith are good friends playing for rival teams that so that adds to the battle for the scoring title.

For Smith, racking up points is old hat. For Teat, it’s a chance to add a scoring title in just his second season after winning Rookie of the Year honors a season ago.

“He’s been doing it for a while now,” said the 25-year-old Teat of his 31-year-old buddy. “He’s a good friend but it’s just fun to be in the same conversation. I think the best part about it is that he’s a competitor and it’s always something that as another competitor you try to go up against and want to compete against the same guys.”

The friendship between Smith and Teat reached a new level this past summer when they were teammates at the World Games in Birmingham, Alabama playing for Team Canada. Playing in the “sixes” format, Teat and Smith helped Team Canada win the Gold Medal and it was clear that they appreciated each other’s skillset.

“He’s an unbelievable player,” said Smith when asked about Teat. “He’s one in a million. He makes everything look so effortless. It was cool to just kind of watch him play, play beside him, being able to give him the ball and him being able to give me the ball it was awesome to see.”

And Teat has the same admiration for Smith knowing full well that there’s one thing left on the Bandits stars NLL to-do list.

“The only thing that’s on his mind is the championship,” said Teat. “He’s set records, broken his own records and I think the last thing for him is to win a championship.”

Smith and the Bandits are determined to bring that highly sought-after professional championship to Buffalo. It’s been a mission statement that Smith has been trying to help the Bandits fulfill since he was selected 5th overall by Buffalo in the 2012 NLL Draft.

It was actually during his rookie season when Smith first met Teat. That’s because Dan Teat, Jeff’s father, was an assistant coach on the Bandits staff back then.

“(Jeff) was on the floor as a young kid and it was pretty funny,” said Smith.  “It’s kind of full circle now playing against each other. Now I’ll text him after one of his games and I was like why do you make everything look so effortless? He says the same thing to me but I feel like I try and I’m able to produce and it looks like I work hard where he makes it look so easy and it’s awesome to see.”

Smith and Teat have already had one head-to-head meeting this season and that was a 16-10 Bandits win on January 20th on Long Island at Nassau Coliseum. Smith also won the individual battle that day with 12 points (4 goals and 8 assists) to Teat’s seven points (3 goals and 4 assists).

They will face each other again on April 15th when the Smith and the Bandits welcome Teat and the Riptide to Buffalo.

“We’re competitors,” said Smith. “When you’re playing against one of the best, you want to perform to the best of your ability as well. It’s always in the back of your mind. It’s going to be a fun challenge ahead. I know our defense is up for the challenge. He’s one of those players you’re not going to be able to stop him, but our goal is to slow him to down.”

“I think anytime you go up against a competitor like Dhane, it always pushes you,” said Teat. “Competition is extremely important and when you play in an atmosphere like Buffalo has, against the caliber of players they have, it obviously raises your game a little bit.”

Not only is Teat ahead of Smith in the race for this year’s scoring title, but both players are on a pace to break or come close to breaking Smith’s single-season scoring record of 137 points set back in 2016. Through 13 games, Teat is averaging 8.15 points per game and needs 32 points over the last five games (6.4 points per game) to break Smith’s record.

Smith is averaging 7.54 points in 13 games, needing eight points per game for the remainder of the season to break the record. While the goals record at 72 is likely safe for another year, Smith could break his own record of 94 assists in a season, set just last year, needing 4.8 assists the last five games.

It doesn’t sound like Smith would have a problem with Teat breaking his record.

“He’s been having a tremendous season and it’s really cool to see,” said Smith. “I always knew my records were never really safe and if anyone is gong to do it, it’s going to be him and it’s going to be pretty cool.”

But while potentially winning the scoring title and setting a new scoring record would be nice for Teat, his preference would be for the Riptide to win out and hope it’s enough for a playoff spot.

“Doing whatever to help the Riptide win,” said Teat of his objective. “We’re in a position that we wouldn’t like to be in but at the same time, it’s next play and next game mentality and whatever it takes.”

Keeping an eye on the battle for seeds and for playoff berths is exciting, but it’s also going to be fascinating to watch Jeff Teat and Dhane Smith continue the battle for the scoring title over the final weeks of the season.

They are close friends and strong competitors making this race even more special.