Well, Syracuse fans are falling back to earth this week. The expectations that we pinned on this team in the early part of the season were undoubtedly too high, especially considering the skill in the ACC. I am not saying this team will not win a National Championship, but they certainly are not invincible.
It did not start off well for the Orange, finding themselves down 5-0 with 1:37 left in the first quarter. The first Syracuse goal came from #22 Jordan Evans. Evans came from below cage, rolled up and out goal line extended, passing it to Randy Staats on the wing. Evans then cut back towards the net where Staats hit him for an off-crease goal (5-1 UNC).
The story from the first quarter was the play of UNC goalie Kieran Burke. Burke had seven saves in the first period and nine in the first half. The SU shooters had multiple opportunities on the crease in the first quarter but either couldn't put it on cage or were robbed by Burke.
The Evans goal that finished off the first period sparked a three-goal run featuring tallies from Henry Schoonmaker and Tim Barber. The Schoonmaker goal came on a Nicky Galasso assist as he hit Schoony on top of the box where he went low-to-low through traffic (5-2 UNC). Barber scored on a dodge from the top right corner beating the shorty defender out of his shoes and sticking it into the net (5-3 UNC). Speaking of Galasso, he had one of the better-looking goals of the game. At just under eight minutes remaining in the half, Galasso worked his defender, Evan Connell, just off the crease, and with the flag down he was able to get around Connell and shovel-shot it around Burke (6-4 UNC). Galasso had three goals against his former team today, and was one of the bright spots for Syracuse.
Syracuse entered halftime down 10-5 to the Tar Heels. The most disappointing part of the first half was the play of the usually solid Bobby Wardwell. Wardwell gave up 10 goals and made just three saves. He looked slow to the ball and simply couldn't get a momentum-gaining stop. In response, Desko brought in Warren Hill to start the second half. Hill gave up a few early goals, but looked pretty good, especially in the fourth period when he made three of his five total saves. I think Hill could have looked better but coming in unexpectedly is not an easy task for a goalie so I was pretty much happy with his performance.
The second half was extremely aggravating to watch. Every time it looked like Syracuse might have gained a spark, UNC stomped out the flames. Things also go pretty heated in the third period after a goal from Hakeem Lecky. With the ball in the back of the net and Lecky on the ground, it appeared that UNC long-pole Austin Pifani intentionally stepped on Lecky and LSM Ryan Kilpatrick two hand shoved Jordan Evans from behind. I haven't gotten a chance to go back but those were certainly the highlights of the scrum for me. Both Pifani and Lecky earned unnecessary roughness penalties for their parts. And all this, during ACC Sportsmanship Week!
Heading into the fourth quarter, Syracuse had put together a three-goal run to make the score 14-9. The fourth was a battle. Finally, however, SU was able to start a four goal-run with 7:59 remaining in the game. Kevin Rice had the first goal of the run, his only goal of the game, to make it 17-12 UNC. Rice had just three points on the day and this was the second big game he has struggled in, the other being against Notre Dame. The Orange overcame a Scott Firman, offsides penalty and got the second notch of the run on a Dylan Donahue goal from a tight angel that went five-hole on Burke (17-13 UNC). Just over thirty seconds later it was Lecky taking a rip to the top left corner of the net (17-14 UNC).
Suddenly Syracuse had a fighting chance. But the Tar Heels were able to kill significant minutes off the clock until finally turning the ball over on a shot clock violation. On the ensuing clear, the tough UNC ride almost caused a Syracuse turnover, but, with a flag down, Donahue hit Tom Grimm inside for a quick-stick and SU found itself just two goals down (17-15 UNC).
Unfortunately 17-15 would also be the final score as Syracuse turned the ball over in the offensive zone.
Even with Randy Staats back in the mix, the attack still didn't look like it was clicking on all cylinders. After the Duke Blue Devils' game we talked about how many shots Syracuse missed cage on. Today, whether it was Kieran Burke making an unreal save, Syracuse not being able to bury an open shot on the crease, or simply missing the net, I thought the Orange shooters had a poor performance. Although Staats had three assists, he was one of those guys that couldn't make what has been usually a gimmee goal for him.
Once again, I cannot say enough about Dylan Donahue. He had five goals and an assist in the loss, and has proven himself to be invaluable when Rice is quieted.