clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Syracuse Lacrosse: Orange Defeat Tar Heels to Get Back on Track

The Syracuse Orange bounced back with an energetic performance against the North Carolina Tar Heels, defeating them by a score of 13-7 in the Carrier Dome on Saturday. Let's take a look at how they did it.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

With about 12 and a half minutes to go in the game on Saturday afternoon, North Carolina's Michael Tagliaferri received the ball on the right side about 30 yards from goal. He used a nice swim move to get past Joe Gillis, and dodged across the field to his left, unleashing a shot back across his body to beat Evan Molloy in the lower right corner of the net.

That goal, Tagliaferri's career-high fourth of the day, completed a 5-1 run and brought the Tar Heels to within two goals of the Orange, 9-7. At that moment, every Syracuse lacrosse fan must have been having flashbacks to the Johns Hopkins game, the Duke game, and/or the Cornell game. You could take your pick, really. All were games in which the Orange held 4th quarter leads, and all were games in which they eventually lost those leads and the game.

So, when North Carolina started the 2nd half on a 5-1 run, it looked as though the Orange were going to fall victim to another late game collapse and crushing defeat. It was going to be the back-breaker that effectively ended Syracuse's season, barring a run to win the ACC Tournament's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Not this time. This time, the Orange had an answer. This time, they were able to make a play to reverse momentum; followed by another play, and then another. On Saturday in the Carrier Dome, they exercised their late-game demons and picked up the big resume win that they so desperately needed.

So, what are our takeaways from Saturday's 13-7 win over the Tar Heels?

Getting Over the Hump

As we know, Syracuse has had major issues finishing games this season. Their performance at the end of certain games has been a big contributor to their 6-4 record coming into the night, but they changed that on Saturday.

In a game that looked like it might be added to the list of games that got away from the Orange, this team finally found a way to fight back and get over that late-game hump. Everybody played a role in executing in the 4th quarter: Evan Molloy made some key saves, the defense caused some key turnovers, Ben Williams won possession, and the offense capitalized on their scoring chances, eventually putting the game out of reach for UNC.

It took them much longer than most fans would like, but, at least for one day, this team learned how to finish.


As in, 'Defense'. This is a unit that has been maligned, basically, all season long for poor off-ball defense, poor sliding tactics, among other things. In UNC, the Syracuse defense was facing the fourth highest scoring offense in the country at 13.55 goals per game coming into the day.

In the end, they held the Tar Heels to six and a half goals below their season average, shutting down everyone on offense outside of Michael Tagliaferri. Defensive stars Brandon Mullins and Nick Mellen combined to win their individual match ups and have four caused turnovers and six ground balls between them.

Goalie Evan Molloy deserves a big mention here, as well. In only his third career start, Molloy had by far his best game. He recorded a career-high nine saves for the game, and finished with a save percentage of 56%. Additionally, he showed off his skills in the clearing game, executing several nice, long clearing passes that lead to a couple of transition goals for Syracuse. Molloy showed up in a big way in the biggest game of the season, so far.

Most importantly, the unit came out with great energy and didn't make many (if any) glaring mistakes as they have in previous games. Their slides were effective and well timed, they didn't give up any goals on bad breakdowns, and they generally made it difficult for UNC to get points on the board.

After giving up 13, 16, and 17 goals, respectively, in their first three ACC games this season, the Syracuse defense finally showed people what they are capable of when they are on their game.

B-B-B-Bennie and the Wingers

During the three-game losing streak to Hopkins, Duke, and Notre Dame, Ben Williams went a combined 36-76 at the face-off X. That's 47.4%, which might bring back nightmares for Syracuse fans of the years before Ben got here.

However, in the three games since, Ben is 47-67, including 16-24 against UNC. That's 70.1%, which is exactly what this team needs from Ben Williams if they plan on making any noise come May.

Ben has been back on track in recent games, but credit also needs to be given to his wingers, who did a great job on Saturday. UNC head coach Joe Breschi specifically called SU's wing play "exceptional" in his post-game press conference.

One interesting note is that John Desko decided to use backup face-off man Cal Paduda as a winger a few times during Saturday's game. Cal didn't take any face-offs, but as a winger, he came in and scooped up three ground balls in limited action.

It will be very interesting if Coach Desko decides to continue utilizing Paduda's skill at picking up ground balls from the winger position moving forward the rest of the season. Cal is skilled in the face-off game, but he rarely sees the field because of Ben. This may be Desko's way of taking advantage of having two good face-off specialists on the roster.

On Target

On Tuesday night in Ithaca, the Orange were only able to muster nine goals against the Big Red, despite the fact that Ben Williams won 82% of the face-offs, they only turned the ball over six times, and only committed one penalty. Mistakes were few and far between and the Orange dominated possession. So, how did they manage to put only nine on the board?

The answer lies with the team's shooting percentage on the day. Syracuse took 40 shots during that game, meaning they shot a meager 23% for the game. That percentage will not win you many games.

That all changed on Saturday afternoon, as Syracuse finished the game shooting 13-39, which equates to a 33% shooting percentage and a 10% increase from the Cornell game. Anything over 30% is something to be pretty happy with in lacrosse, so credit to the Orange shooters for picking their spots much better on the day.

Calm can get the job done

When the final horn sounded, the Syracuse players rushed out to swarm Evan Molloy and celebrate a big victory. Shortly after, the ESPN cameras turned to a shot of John Desko on the sideline. The Orange head man looked as he almost always does: calm as can be. If the scoreboard was not up on the screen and you hadn't watched the game, you wouldn't know the Orange had won by looking at Coach Desko.

That's just who he is. He's very even-keeled. He very rarely shows himself to be too happy after a win or too depressed after a loss. He rarely gets fired up on the sideline during the game; only occasionally when he STRONGLY disagrees with a call. Most of the time, he's just calm.

That's exactly the kind of demeanor that can drive fans insane when a team is struggling. Fans want to see a coach and players who are as upset about a team's poor performances as they are, and when it doesn't happen, it can be infuriating.

In the wake of the loss to Cornell on Tuesday, Coach Desko and the players expressed disappointment about their late game collapses, but didn't appear overly concerned about the season veering totally off-course, as so many of us did. They all agreed that this team was right there, and just needed to do a better job of executing and finishing games off.

Well, in the Carrier Dome on Saturday, John Desko and his boys proved something: Calm can get the job done, just fine.


Syracuse returns to the field to take on Binghamton, in the Carrier Dome, on Wednesday, April 20th at 7 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on Time Warner Cable and ESPN 3.