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Syracuse Lacrosse: Previewing the North Carolina Tar Heels

The Syracuse Orange travel to Chapel HIll, NC to faceoff with the North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday at 4 PM. The Orange come into the game ranked #1 in the nation while Carolina looks to improve its Tournament resume.

NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images


School: North Carolina

Mascot: Tar Heels

Coach: Joe Breschi

Location: Chapel Hill, NC

Conference: ACC

Game Location: Chapel Hill, NC

Game Time: 4 PM

Television/Radio: ESPNU, TK99/105

Weather: 81 Degrees, Partly Cloudy

All-Time Syracuse Record Vs. Opponent: 15-7

Previous Matchup: 10-7 Syracuse win in the ACC Semifinals

Opponent Ranking: 17th

Carolina Quick Facts

2017 Record: 6-5

2017 Conference Record: 1-1

2016 Conference Postseason Results: Lost to Syracuse in the ACC Semifinals

2016 NCAA Tournament Postseason Results: National Champions

2017 Team Statistics

Total Goals– Shot Attempts: 118-436

Total Opponent Goals– Shot Attempts: 101-343

EMO Goals (Percentage): 9 (.321)

EMO Goals Against (Kill Percentage): 12 (.343)

Team Shooting Percentage: .271

Opponent Shooting Percentage: .294

Shots on Goal Percentage: .562

Opponent Shots on Goal Percentage: .618

Groundballs: 328

Opponent Groundballs: 301

Turnovers: 155

Caused Turnovers: 76

Faceoffs: 149-254 (.587)

Clearing Percentage: .913

Opponent Clearing Percentage: .848

Penalties: 39 (31:30 PIM)

In 2016, Syracuse beat the National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels twice. In each game Carolina had just three scorers but no Carolina player scored in both games.

Saturday’s game is very important for North Carolina. UNC has two quality wins versus the Denver Pioneers and Virginia Cavaliers but sit 12th in RPI. The Heels may need another big time win for its tournament resume, and as we know this year has not been kind to number one ranked teams.

Here’s an interesting fact: the last National Champion to fail to make the following NCAA Tournament field was the Virginia Cavaliers in the 2004 season. Carolina certainly does not want to fall into that category.

Saturday is all about the faceoff X where we will see two completely different styles go against each other. UNC’s Stephen Kelly got killed by Ben Williams last year but we haven’t seen the same type of dominance from Ben this season.


Carolina is averaging just over five assists per game. To put that in perspective for Syracuse fans, the Orange are averaging nearly nine assists per game, good enough for fifth in the country. SU uses passing to open up the inside guy and find the open man on the crease. Carolina is not going to beat you with tic-tac-toe passing or inside passing for a quick stick on the crease. They’re going to beat you with a dodge or finding a deep shooter open. Whoever the shooter is, Carolina relies on the one-on-one matchups; the SU slides have to be ready.

Fetzer Field is notoriously slippery, especially at night. Saturday’s game starts at 4 PM so watch as the game moves on to see how the turf handles. Obviously SU plays a lot indoors and Carolina is used to these conditions so the Heels could have an edge in knowing how to handle the field conditions a bit better. If Syracuse’s defense is slipping all over the field it could provide a lot of opportunities for UNC.

Additionally, the Heels are not a fast-paced team. Transition goals are not a hallmark of this squad, you are going to see a lot of extended possessions . Also watch for a lot of picks behind the net. Joe Keegan over at College Crosse had a nice article about the use of the pick and roll for Carolina this year, check it out here.

Chris Cloutier is an all around shooter. He has such a great ability to fight off the initial check and fight through it to get open with the ball. He is also a very patient shooter, watch the fakes. Last season, Cloutier had 43 goals as a sophomore and was named the NCAA Tournament’s MVP tying Gary Gait and Oliver Marti’s single-game tournament record of nine goals and setting a new record in goals in a tournament with 19. In 2017 the junior has 20 goals and nine assists and leads Carolina in points with 29.

Luke Goldstock is one of the top goal scorers in North Carolina history. Goldstock picked up 50 goals in his sophomore year and while his tally numbers dipped last season he picked up significantly more assists in 2016. He’s got a great shot, watch for him at the wing.

On a team that ranks 46th in the country in assists per game, Andy Matthews is the only Tar Heel with more than nine assists and he has 18 on the year.


Graduate student Michael Tagliaferri had a monster season last year with 27 goals including four against Syracuse in the regular season matchup. If Tagliaferri can get going on Saturday, it will force SU to focus on him and open up the attack for more opportunities.

Timmy Kelly started four games at attack last season but was eventually moved to the second midfield. Kelly’s father played lacrosse at Carolina in the late ‘80s and his older brother Patrick was a senior on last season’s National Championship team. On a team that does not have a great shooting percentage, Kelly is one of the best. The sophomore from Maryland has 13 goals and two assists on the year.

Justin Anderson is a freshman from…Las Vegas, NV, and should be the on the starting midfield Saturday. He has 10 goals and three assists this season. Although, he did have this gem in his bio...


The faceoff battle on Saturday is likely to be the biggest thing to watch.

Syracuse’s Ben Williams had a big Tuesday night against Cornell looking like he was back to form. Saturday, Williams will get a real test facing-off with Stephen Kelly and we will get to see if Williams is actually back. Kelly is 19th in faceoff winning percentage in the nation sporting a .593 percentage while the Heels are ninth overall. All that being said, in last year’s matchups Kelly went just 17-45 against Williams, never winning more than nine in either game.

While Ben Williams utilizes faceoff technique, Kelly is an incredibly athletic player and more of a physical guy that will win his faceoffs after the draw, on the groundball. You will see Kelly on the turn a lot, he gets down and dirty to win that battle. He will get physical, and given the uncertainty of Williams’ injury this could become an issue. The other point in this matchup is that Kelly has at times stayed on the field after a win, so Williams may have to play more minutes at defense than he’s used to.


The defense is a strength for North Carolina. The Heels have the ability to throw a bunch of different zone defenses, and while SU has burned zones this year we will see if they change it up a lot against Syracuse. I would expect the Orange to utilize a lot of off-ball cuts, Carolina’s one weak spot on defense has been defending off-ball and being caught ball watching, just take a look at that game versus Maryland for several examples.

The heart of not just the defense but the entire team rests with senior Austin Pifani. The three-time All-American is 16th in the nation and second in the ACC in caused turnovers per game with 19 in total. He is a physical player and can be a lock-down defender. Jack Rowlett is a great second man up in terms of the slide. He has an excellent stick and is not afraid to get physical. Ryan Macri is a big dude. He played high school at the Governor’s Academy in Mass.


Brian Balkam’s save percentage is up from last year going from .490 to .514, but he sits 32nd in the country. The Heels’ defense only asks him to make about nine saves per game, so he’s not under a ton of pressure. The redshirt junior made 12 saves against Syracuse in the ACC Semifinals game and 10 in the regular season matchup.

The Syracuse Orange travel to Chapel Hill, NC for an afternoon game against the North Carolina Tar Heels. The game kicks off at 4 PM and can be seen on ESPNU and heard on TK99/105. Of course you can follow me for updates @Orangelax.