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Syracuse men’s lacrosse: Brutal first half dooms Orange in 19-13 loss to North Carolina

The good vibes to start the season came crashing down in the ACC opener.

Michael Ostrowski

The Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team got jumped in their own building on Saturday when the North Carolina Tar Heels came to town and crushed them, 19-13, in the ACC season opener.

Unfortunately, we saw a lot of the issues in this game that have been prevalent for this program in recent years.

The defense had an awful day at the office, surrendering 19 goals to a team that had scored 16 goals in their last two games combined. The narrative on UNC’s offense coming in was that they were still trying to figure out the pieces and how they’d work together. It turns out that all they had to do was face the ‘Cuse defense, and all is right in their world.

All day long, Carolina shooters had time-and-room to step into their shots and get good looks at the cage. The off-ball and weak-side defensive issues that we saw last year came creeping right back to us. I thought Nick Caccamo had a particularly bad game in that regard, playing way too soft on his man leading to multiple goals at his expense. Logan McGovern came into this game leading the Tar Heels in points on the season with 10. He had eight in this game alone.

All of this was with Will Mark making 17 saves. Can you imagine where they would have ended up if he didn’t bail them out multiple times? Mark is great, but he is going to need some measure of help moving forward.

Oh, and then there was the fact that they just got out-hustled by UNC. The Heels played with more intensity, especially in the first half, and finished the game with a 36-22 edge on ground balls.

The offense maybe didn’t have quite as bad a day, but they still weren’t great. First of all, the man-up unit continues to be off-the-charts effective, scoring five goals on the day for the Orange. The problem is, that means that ‘Cuse’s 6-on-6 unit only scored eight goals in this game. That’s not enough, especially for a unit with so much talent who should be more productive.

Carolina’s defense is good and their goalie is one of the best in the country, but I didn’t see enough quality ball movement in the half-field offense. I saw too much ineffective dodging that stifled the hope of consistently dangerous ball and player movement. Those behind-the-back passes and shots are nice and all, but the occasional creativity is getting in the way of consistent production.

The face-offs weren’t great, but it was much better than in the Maryland game as the Tar Heels won the overall battle, 19-16. Johnny Richiusa gave it everything he had and fought hard, along with his wings, to keep the competition relatively close on the restarts.

Joey Spallina (3G, 2A) and Owen Hiltz (2G, 3A) led the way with five-point days, while Finn Thomson (1G, 3A) had four. Cole Kirst, moving into the starting lineup at attack for the first time, finished with three points (2G, 1A), while Alex Simmons (2G) had a pair of goals while making a corresponding move up to the first-line midfield. Jackson Birtwistle, Griffin Cook and Luke Rhoa each scored a goal.

The Tar Heels owned the first half. After a back-and-forth start in which SU actually held a 4-3 lead late in the first quarter, UNC closed the half on a 9-2 run in which the defense couldn’t stop the ball or find a man and the offense couldn’t figure out how to score in the 6-on-6. The Heels doubled up the Orange at the break, 12-6.

The second half was a much more evenly played affair, literally as the teams finished an even 7-7 on the back half. The Orange fought better, especially in a third quarter they won 4-2. But they had put themselves in such a hole from the first half, they needed a lot more than that to make the comeback.

It’ll be a long week for SU ahead of next weekend’s game with...Duke. Great. The Orange and Blue Devils will meet in the Dome next Sunday, March 5 at 4 PM on ACC Network Extra.