Okay, a couple things right off the top:
- Let this serve as a reminder to us all: SPORTS. HAVE. A. WAY. OF. SURPRISING. US.
That really is a mantra that we should all keep in the back of our heads at all times, because when teams struggle for multiple games in a row, we have a way of writing them off. But the truth is, we don’t really know what’s going on in the hearts and minds of the athletes we love to watch so much. Thusly, sports surprise us.
In the words of the immortal Rowdy-Roddy Piper, “Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions”!
- Quick memo to the ACC assistant who Anish Shroff had been told was saying it looked like Jakob Phaup was jumping early against Petey LaSalla in the first Syracuse-Virginia game in February: I guess you’re eyes were deceiving you, because Jakob Phaup OWNS the Virginia FOGOs. My word was that domination if I’ve ever seen it. I mean, speaking of things we never saw coming...Jakob. Phaup. (I’m gonna keep writing his name in bold — that’s how good he was today)
Call off the funeral. The Orange ain’t dead. pic.twitter.com/uomhYMcdTE— Syracuse Lacrosse (@CuseMLAX) April 24, 2021
On a glorious Saturday afternoon down in Charlottesville, the No. 11 Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team breathed life back into their season with a massive 13-11 victory over the No. 5 Virginia Cavaliers, a win that may have just punched their ticket to May lacrosse.
Coming off a string of three straight ACC losses, two of which were embarrassing blowouts to UNC and ND, this Syracuse team had basically been written off by everyone, with no-one giving them a chance in you-know-where of beating Virginia in this one.
But the Orange proved that they do have the pride, and the fight, to keep their season going. They also reminded everyone that they’re not just the other team at the bottom of the ACC standings. They’re legit, and, when they play like this, they belong in the conversation with the best teams in the country.
How did they do it? Through the old-fashioned, tried-and-true method of completely dominating face-offs, ground balls, and shots to simply overpower their opponent.
It was almost as if Jakob Phaup was making up for the last month’s worth of struggling in one game. Phaup, who went 6-of-29 (21 percent) in the three straight ACC losses, took every face-off against UVA and exploded for 24-of-27. That would be an 89 percent success rate at the X in this game. Now that’s how you stage a comeback!
That level of supremacy on re-starts allowed ‘Cuse to control the possession and pace of the game, and helped win the always critical ground ball battle against the Cavaliers, 38-28.
But the most important thing that the face-offs allowed the Orange to do was absolutely destroy the Cavs in total shots, holding a commanding 54-30 edge in that category. You’ve gotta shoot to score, right? Well, SU gave themselves almost twice as many chances to score as UVA did, and made life twice as hard for the UVA defense and goalie Alex Rode in the process.
Any of this sounding familiar, by the way? Sounds an awful lot like what we’ve been bemoaning for the Syracuse defense and Drake Porter in recent weeks, huh?
Speaking of them, this was a huge step forward for a defense that has struggled so often this season with their communication and their ability to play as a unit without some form of a breakdown.
Not today. Today, playing without Nick DiPietro, Brandon Aviles, Dami Oladamoye, and Landon Clary, the depleted defense held Virginia to 11 goals. No, they weren’t perfect and still had their share of breakdowns leading to easier Cavalier goals, but you can’t argue with the results. Amazing what winning face-offs does for you.
Oh, by the way, Virginia’s two lowest goal totals this season? 10 & 11 — both coming against the Orange.
But truly, the VOLUME produced by the face-off dominance was the key today against the Cavs. It’s not as if SU shot all that well overall. I mean, yes, they had some spectacular goals that stood out, but the team only shot 13-of-54 in this game. That’s 24 percent. That’s not good. But shooting 24 percent when you’ve taken 54 shots is significantly better than shooting 37 percent when you’ve only taken 30 shots. Just ask Virginia.
The ‘Cuse offense was very well balanced on a day when so many backups had expanded roles due to the absences of Chase Scanlan and Jacob Buttermore. Making his first collegiate start, Owen Seebold had the best day of his SU career filling in for Scanlan on attack with four points (2G, 2A). SU also saw resurgent days from Owen Hiltz (3G, 2A) with five points and Jamie Trimboli (3G, 1A) with four. Stephen Rehfuss and Lucas Quinn each had three points (2G, 1A) while Brendan Curry (1G, 1A) added two. Defensively, Brett Kennedy had a phenomenal day with three CTs and eight GBs.
Highlights from the road ACC victory pic.twitter.com/pBjzSa6sH3— Syracuse Lacrosse (@CuseMLAX) April 24, 2021
Well, first and foremost, this is the win we’ve all be hoping for. Since the Albany win, we’ve know that SU needed only one win in their final ACC gauntlet (UNC, UVA, ND) to ensure a .500 record for the season. Thankfully, they didn’t wait until the last week to secure win number six.
Now that we know the Orange will definitely be eligible for the NCAA tournament, we can fully turn our attention to whether they actually will make it as an at-large team.
For me, this is a simple one: they will. They now have two wins over one of the best teams out there in Virginia, plus three wins over fringe Top-20 teams from the America East in Albany, Vermont, and Stony Brook. Don’t pooh-pooh those wins. They will be quite useful in the eyes of the committee. Those wins combined with SU’s strength-of-schedule, which is obviously great due to the SIX games against ACC teams, should easily be enough to get the Orange in.
The question of placement is an entirely different issue, and given ‘Cuse’s struggles through the middle part of the season, it’s not tough to imagine that it’s going to be a difficult placement for them. But, hey, they’re going to be in the dance. At this point, that’s the best we can ask for. More talk on that coming soon...
The Next Game
Syracuse will conclude their regular season next Saturday, May 1 at 12 PM on the road for a rematch with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The game will be televised on ESPN U.
The pressure of getting to .500 is behind us, and now we can root the boys on as they try to build their resume up even higher by getting revenge on the leprechauns.
Let’s Go Orange!!!