For 57 minutes on Saturday afternoon, the Syracuse Orange were in control. The Johns Hopkins Blue Jays had never lead. Their team's two leading scorers, Shack Stanwick and Ryan Brown, had been held totally in check by Brandon Mullins, Nick Mellen, and the Syracuse defense. The Orange had a two goal lead and had just made a stop, and then...everything fell apart on them.
A turnover, a Hopkins goal, a face-off violation, and another Hopkins goal later, and the game was headed to overtime. The Orange never saw the ball again, as Ben Williams lost the overtime face-off and Johns Hopkins scored on their first possession.
It was a heart-breaking way for the Orange to lose against their most bitter rival, especially since they lead for so much for the game. Let's take a quick look at how it all went so wrong:
The Final Three Minutes
Syracuse had a 10-8 lead with 3:19 remaining in the game. Hopkins had just lost the ball, and Syracuse started their clear. Paolo Ciferri attempted an over-the-top pass that was deflected and eventually picked up by Ryan Brown. A little less than a minute later, Hopkins midfielder John Crawley beat Ciferri down the left alley to make it 10-9 with 2:22 remaining. Ben Williams then violated on the following face-off, which resulted in a penalty because it was his third violation of the second half.
Hopkins wasn't able to score on the man-up, but they did retain possession of the ball, eventually tying the game up with 38 seconds left on a Ryan Brown goal. Williams then lost again on the ensuing face-off. Hopkins wasn't able to score in those final 38 seconds, but the tie score sent the game to overtime.
Hopkins won the OT face-off and owned possession of the ball for all 1:51 of the extra period, when Wilkins Dismuke finished off a rebound goal to complete the comeback and hand Syracuse their first loss of the season.
The Orange gave this one away. They were up by two goals with possession and three minutes left on the clock. The Ciferri turnover that started the late Hopkins rally was the turning point. In fact, Syracuse never had an offensive possession the rest of the game after that failed clearance attempt.
Simply put, absolutely nothing went the way of Syracuse in the final three minutes of regulation or in overtime. Unfortunately, the Orange have no one to blame but themselves.
This feels weird, but we're actually reflecting on a poor performance from Ben Williams on the day, who is surely kicking himself for not getting it done down the stretch. While Williams did win the majority of the face-offs for the game, 13 of 24 (.542), he won only 4 of 11 after halftime, including losing the last three of the game. He also had four face-off violations during the game, which lead to a late penalty for Syracuse.
We talked about how Syracuse gave the game away down the stretch, and a huge part of that was Williams's inability to win possession for the Orange at the end of the game. In fact, Syracuse's last offensive possession of the game came with a little under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. We've talked all year about how possession advantage is one of Syracuse's greatest strengths, but today it played a big role in their undoing.
During the week, Ben Williams talked about how he was using last season's loss to Johns Hopkins in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament as motivation for their trip to Homewood Field this weekend. Unfortunately, in the most crucial part of the game, when Syracuse desperately needed possession to help stop Hopkins's momentum, he just could not get the job done.
Syracuse had a problem all day holding on to the ball. The Orange committed 14 turnovers, and many of them were simply just bad throw-aways. They weren't caused by any Johns Hopkins pressure. They were just unforced errors committed by the Syracuse offense.
Some of the impact of the turnovers can certainly be attributed to the bad weather conditions on the day. It was a wet and cold day at Homewood Field, with rain and even some snow mixed in at times. It was the first time the elements have played a role in a Syracuse game this season, and it seemed to have an effect the Orange.
Bad weather or not, Syracuse had too many turnovers and simply gave the ball away to Johns Hopkins too many times. It limited the number of looks the offense got on cage, and in the end it played a big role in the first loss of the season.
There is no shame in losing to Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field, but now, the Orange must make sure that they bounce back. They are in the middle of their toughest three game stretch of the season, and they've gotten off to a losing start. With a road game to Duke and a game against Notre Dame on the horizon, Syracuse must not let a tough loss in Baltimore affect them moving forward.
Duke has absolutely destroyed Loyola and Georgetown in their last two games, and Notre Dame is arguably the best team in the country. These two games are going to be very tough, to say the least.
A loss to any one of them individually would not be too damaging, but going 0-3 against them collectively would not be good for a postseason resume. The Orange need to make sure they can take at least one of the next two.
Syracuse will look to bounce back next Saturday, March 26th, at noon when they head down to Durham, NC to face the Duke Blue Devils. That game will be televised nationally on ESPN U.