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Syracuse men's lacrosse: Orange get win they’ve been working towards all season, 16-13, over Princeton

Face-offs? Yes! Face-offs!

NCAA Lacrosse: Princeton vs Syracuse Jim O’Connor-USA TODAY Sports

So, is that what consistently winning face-offs does for this team?

In the first meeting between two of the traditional titans of the sport in a decade, the Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team emerged victorious with their most complete performance and best win of the season with a 16-13 victory over the No. 15 Princeton Tigers.

It’s the Orange’s first win over a ranked opponent in their last 11 opportunities.

‘Cuse was finally able to get over the hump they’d struggled with all season in losses to Duke, Hopkins, and Notre Dame. They never trailed and spent much of the afternoon leading by three goals as the teams traded punches. The late game collapse that has led to so much frustration this season never came, and the Orange rode out the fourth quarter to pick up the big win and improve to 7-5 on the year.

One main reason why that fourth quarter collapse never came was the success of the face-offs. Jack Fine was dominant for most of the afternoon, taking almost every restart and winning all 20 as SU won the battle, 20-13 (.606).

That consistent possession not only gave ‘Cuse’s offense more time with the ball, but crucially, it gave the defense more time to rest. That paid enormous dividends in the fourth quarter when they had the energy to stay with the Tigers and completely shut them out in the final frame. In a game defined by offense, especially in the first half, it was the defense coming up large in the biggest moments to hold off a Princeton comeback and help give SU their biggest win of the season.

Will Mark was a huge part of that defensive performance, coming up with 17 saves and a .567 save percentage. His biggest of the day was a fourth quarter save where he leapt across the face of goal to deny a slam dunk opportunity that kept the Orange up by three and really helped slam the door shut on a comeback.

Given more opportunities, the offense delivered a strong 16-goal performance that felt like it could have been even better. Joey Spallina was spectacular in running the show with a career-high 9 points on four goals and five assists. His vision was excellent and he found his teammates for some easy, slam-dunk goals.

I thought the offense did a much better job of attacking from X with more consistency, and Spallina made the Princeton defense pay all afternoon. They also shared the ball about as well as they have all season, coming away with 10 assists for the game.

In a game filled with flags, the SU man-up unit had another strong showing with four total EMO goals. Cole Kirst and Finn Thomson both had hat tricks, and Jackson Birtwistle added two of his own. Along with Spallina, that quartet combined for 12 of the 16 Orange goals.

Boy, it feels good to get back in the win column against a ranked team, doesn’t it?

Now, we just have to see if Jack Fine can keep his resurgence going moving forward, because this team can be special when they win face-offs.

The Orange will be back in action next weekend for their neutral site game against the North Carolina Tar Heels. The game will be played in Only, MD and is set for Saturday, April 15 at 4 PM on ESPNU.