Syracuse Drops First Game of ACC Tournament For Third Straight Year
By Sam Rothman
CitrusTV Men’s Lacrosse Beat Reporter
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. ー With three minutes left on the clock, UNC face-off specialist Zachary Tucci won the battle at the X and raced down the field toward SU goalie Drake Porter. The freshman fired the ball into the back of the cage for his second goal of the season, which proved to be the dagger.
“That one hurt a little bit,” said SU Head Coach John Desko.
That goal marked the Tar Heels’ third goal in just 45 seconds as the Orange’s three-goal advantage had disappeared.
“We took our foot off the gas mentally,” said defenseman Nick Mellen.
North Carolina (8-6,1-3) put the pedal to the medal, rattling off four-straight goals to complete the comeback and hand Syracuse (9-4, 2-2) its third-straight first round ACC tournament loss with the 11-10 win.
“It was a competitive game,” said Mellen. “That game was never over. It was a close game the whole time.”
There were five ties in the contest before Syracuse took a 10-7 lead with just over six minutes left. After a quick Tar Heels to start the fourth quarter, the Orange scored three in a row, shifting the momentum in their favor. However, they couldn’t maintain it.
“When we were up by three goals at the end of the game after being close, up by one, down by one, or tied the entire game, I guess you could say we felt in control,” said Bradley Voigt. “I think we just needed one or two more good possessions, and I think the game would have gone the other way.”
One key area North Carolina dominated down the stretch came in the center of the field.
“Their face-off unit with their poles did a better job of getting out on us and our face-off guys when they were clamping the ball,” said Jacob Buttermore.
Syracuse had dominated at the face-off X just 12 days ago, but the Tar Heels won the face-off battle on Thursday. UNC went 9-of-14 in the second half.
Also, Syracuse’s defensive unit had been rock solid coming into the game, allowing less than ten goals in its past four matchups. But, costly mistakes in their own zone hurt the Orange as time winded down.
“We came up with the ball in our defensive end a couple of times and our goalie threw it away twice on possessions where we had open people,” said Desko. “Two big turnovers there. A couple of other things happened that I’m sure we’re not going to have fun watching on the film.”
One thing that will stick out in the video is Syracuse’s discipline. With two seconds left in the third quarter, UNC’s Justin Anderson was called for an illegal body check after Nate Solomon gave SU the 7-6 advantage. But, Solomon retaliated and the referee’s threw the flag.
“All of a sudden the ball goes to them because we’re the second penalty, and we’re not man-up anymore,” said Desko. “That could have been a big scoring opportunity for us.”
The Orange had a minute to tie the game and send it into overtime, but the Tar Heels had the possession after a Jared Fernandez turnover. So, Mellen caused a turnover to give his team a chance.
“I knew the time. I knew a play had to be made,” said Mellen. “We had to get possession back to at least give our guys a chance to score. But, you know, things happen.”
The Tar Heels’ defense happened as the Orange just couldn’t execute on the play Desko drew up during the timeout.
“They pressured out on all of us off-ball guys,” said Voigt. “Stephen [Rehfuss] beat his man and then was trying to find the cutter and it just wasn’t there because they did a good job of shutting off the guys without the ball.”
While those specific moments played a role in UNC’s comeback, the biggest factor came down to the Tar Heels wanting it more.
“We were up 3-0 with under four minutes left,” said Mellen. “There’s not much X’s and O’s to that. It just comes down to heart at that point. We didn’t fulfill that.”
The Tar Heels were fighting for their postseason as UNC is can be considered a bubble, and those final plays proved that.
“That was a team that’s season is probably on the line, and they had to win that game,” said Mellen. “They played like it. We didn’t.”
Despite the loss, the Orange are already putting the game behind them and focusing their attention on the next battle: the NCAA tournament.
“On the positive side, it’s a new season. In the playoffs, everyone is 0-0,” said Mellen. “We’re going to go back, hit the film room, and we’re going to make this right.”
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