The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday December 5th

Tar Heels Step Up, Beat Duke

The UNC men's lacrosse team might have silenced some critics by beating the No. 5 Blue Devils on Wednesday.

Can't beat Duke? The ninth-ranked Tar Heels fell behind by three goals early but came storming back to defeat the Blue Devils for just the second time in the teams' past nine meetings.

Can't compete in the ACC? UNC (6-0, 1-0 in the ACC), which was 2-13 in the conference in its past five seasons, beat a team that had just downed fifth-ranked Maryland less than three weeks earlier.

Can't run with a higher ranked opponent? The Tar Heels had folded like origami once they hit the meaty part of their schedule in past seasons.

But after racking up a perfect record against mostly cream puffs to start this one, they showed superior poise down the stretch against the nation's fifth-ranked squad and have a ton of momentum heading into a stretch of games against highly ranked opponents.

"For the players, obviously, with an ACC game where we've been very woeful over the past five years, and against a top-10 opponent, it was a chance for them to feel good about themselves in terms of effort in beating a good team," said UNC coach John Haus.

The players, who erupted in an elated celebration at game's end, throwing their sticks in the air and hugging on the field, said the win was a big boost.

"We're definitely rolling," said junior midfielder Austin Garrison, who scored three goals, including the final one with 1:14 remaining that sealed the win. "And confidence-wise, this is huge for us to beat a team that's above us."

After committing numerous unforced turnovers that led to failed clears and limited their looks on offense, the Tar Heels trailed the Blue Devils (3-2, 1-1) 4-1 at the end of the first quarter.

But in the second quarter, they pulled themselves together, holding Duke scoreless with a staunch defense that forced steal after steal and rattling off four unanswered goals that gave them a 5-4 lead with 6:33 left in the first half.

Four different players scored during that run, and UNC had seven different goal-scorers overall for the game.

Duke midfielder Kevin Cassese scored back-to-back goals to reclaim the lead 6-5 for the Blue Devils with 1:16 left in the third quarter. He controlled a faceoff and took it to the house for the first, then zipped in a left-handed rocket off a screen for the second.

But Garrison answered with 10:47 to go in the fourth, beating Duke defenseman Jon Enberg and firing a shot from the right side. Jed Prossner followed with what turned out to be the game-winner 1:33 later, converting a pass from fellow freshman attackman Mike McCall, who had a goal and two assists off the bench, on the edge of the crease.

"He made a nice dodge to draw the double-team and dished it off to me on the crease, and I luckily finished it," Prossner said.

The tight finish was familiar territory for UNC, which beat Ohio State in double overtime in its season opener, defeated Navy in six overtimes in the longest game in NCAA history and eked past Denver 9-8 in its last game.

"I think we're definitely battle-tested," Garrison said. "In those other games, we came out fast against a bunch of teams, got up on them and then let them come back on us in the second half. We didn't do that this time, which is good."

With a home matchup against the Terps on Saturday, and games against top-ranked Johns Hopkins and No. 4 Virginia looming, Haus said that his team can't afford to rest on its laurels now.

"It's one win, and you play so many big games," he said. "If we go out Saturday and we don't play well, then we haven't gotten over any hump. I think what's important now is that we realize we did win a big game, but we've got to come right back out again and play well."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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