Good thing the first game the general public was allowed to attend for men’s lacrosse this season is also the last home game of the season, because I’m not sure anybody would show up if there were another one.
The Orange were dominated in every facet of the game, for the entire length of the game. Outscored in every quarter, Syracuse was blown off their own field by a better team on Saturday.
Simply put: Syracuse was never even in this game.
You name the aspect of the game; SU got owned in it. You name the statistic; SU lost it.
- Shots: 58-38 UNC (Tar Heels put 37 shots ON GOAL vs. SU’s 38 TOTAL)
- Ground Balls: 43-31 UNC
- Face-offs: 19-15 UNC
- Turnovers: 12-14 UNC
The stats are one thing (one ugly thing), but to watch this game was to truly understand the depth of North Carolina’s dominance over Syracuse on the day.
Where shall we start? On the defensive end I suppose, where the Tar Heels scored an absurd 21 goals. Possession after possession, Carolina found a player with a wide open look at goal. On possession number two, for example, Chris Gray was completely unguarded and scored easily. Chris Gray, just completely wide open. You know a defense is beyond lost when they don’t know where the best player on the field is. Just no clue where he was.
We know off-ball defense has been a significant weakness all season, but it hit rock bottom today against a UNC offense that excels in just that area: off-ball movement on offense. The communication wasn’t there, and the ‘Cuse defense spent the entire afternoon essentially chasing their own tails, unable to plug up the numerous holes that the Carolina shooters found with ease.
Someone bring in the Hollywood producers, because this defense needs a reboot. Completely lost. Nobody knows what’s going on.
Turnovers, Clearing, Mental Mistakes
Okay, up next: the mistakes.
Hey, guess what? Syracuse actually had a somewhat improved day at the X (44 percent, but still an improvement). But guess what else? They failed to maintain possession after winning it with throw-aways and mental mistakes.
Of the 15 face-offs that Syracuse technically won, I counted at least five times when they almost immediately lost possession of the ball with careless passing; some of which were down right embarrassing on throw-aways when UNC wasn’t even pressuring the ball.
These are the mistakes that just absolutely kill a team, especially a team that has been starving for extra possession for the last month of the season. Today, they had a slightly better day at X, and they commit mental mistake after careless pass after dumb decision. Just completely brutal.
Turnovers also popped up in the clearing game, where the Orange looked lost at times, too. UNC is a good riding team, but I don’t care who you’re playing, there’s just no excuse for throwing the ball away five times in the clearing game (14-of-19 on the day).
SU needed to play a perfectly clean game today in order to maximize offensive chances and keep this competitive. They did exactly the opposite of that in this game.
Speaking of offensive chances, the SU offense doesn’t exactly get a free pass here, either.
When the Orange weren’t throwing the ball away and actually getting offensive chances, they didn’t do much with it. Syracuse shot 9-of-38 on the day. That’s 24 percent. Way below what they need to be.
And besides the bad shooting, it was a huge struggle to create good looks on offense all day long. The SU dodgers were unable to penetrate or create scoring chances all the way around the horn, leading to a nine goal performance.
The Orange offense has been given the benefit of the doubt lately because of face-off deficiencies, and, to be fair, they are a group full of talent who have mostly been good this season. But not today.
Today, they helped complete the nightmare performance from this Syracuse team.
The game was an outright disaster right from the start. After an early defensive stop, the Orange clear attempt failed, giving Carolina a second chance. They, of course, buried it when Connor McCarthy was found wide open on the crease. Speaking of wide open, that’s how Chris Gray inexplicably found himself 40 seconds later: up-top, wide-open, easy finish for one of the best players in the country.
The onslaught continued with a pair of goals from Justin Anderson and a second from Chris Gray, making it 5-0 UNC before the Orange actually got on the board on a nice feed from Stephen Rehfuss to Jamie Trimboli.
But that would be just about the only nice thing to happen for SU all day. North Carolina scored the next four goals to get out to an embarrassing 9-1 lead in just over 16 minutes.
Tucker Dordevic brought a brief respite from the dread, scoring three of the next four goals by himself to make it 10-4 UNC. But the Tar Heels came right back with two more to make it 12-4 at the half while the Orange continued to throw the ball away and make mental mistakes.
The second half was more of the same, only this time with a progressively deteriorating sense of motivation from the Orange. The Tar Heels outscored SU 9-5 after halftime to win the game 21-9, another embarrassing performance in a crumbling season.
I think I pretty well covered my takeaways already up top in this recap, so let’s leave it with this:
This team is a mess right now. Three straight ACC losses, the last two by a combined 19 goals on their home field.
We haven’t really felt good about a performance all season outside of the Virginia game, and we’ve got a much different (better) Cavalier team to face next week.
But if there’s anything good to takeaway right now (and there might not be), it’s that this team only needs one more win to make the tournament.
Now, I get it. Believe me. After what we just saw today, how could anyone feel good about our chances to pick up a win in our next two games? Again, I get it.
But that’s kind of the thing about sports...they have a way of surprising you. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be interested in watching them. The unknown of sports is just too tantalizing a prospect to pass up.
Things can change from week-to-week. No matter how bad or even how good they look one game, they can get turned on their head the next game.
I am far from predicting this team is going to win one of the next two games. Again, how could I after what I just saw?
But would it shock me if the Orange win one of the next two? Of course not. Every game is independent of every other game.
This team only needs one win to make the tournament. With how ridiculously difficult their schedule has been relative to the rest of the country, a 6-5 record gets them in. For sure. It’s not going to be a good placement, but it will be an inclusion if they can find a way to get a win.
So, how badly do they want it?
Or, more importantly, how much pride does this team have? They’ve been embarrassed on national TV by Notre Dame and UNC the last two times out in ACC play. They’re basically a laughingstock in the college lacrosse world right now.
We know they’re capable of more than this. We watched them almost beat Duke in Durham when they barely won a face-off. Was that not the same team? The same group of players that we saw today? We know it’s in them.
But do they have any fight in them at all, or are they resigned to the fate we saw today?
We find out next week in Charlottesville. Saturday, April 24. 12 PM. ESPN U.