After junior Chad Tutton fell into an early-season scoring slump, the North Carolina men’s lacrosse coaching staff offered two words of advice.
Tutton took that mantra to heart and ultimately to the cage Tuesday night, contributing two goals to UNC’s 13-10 victory against Harvard.
It is no secret that Tutton’s back holds more than his shoulder pads. Preseason expectations were heaped high on the 200-pound All-American midfielder who served as last year’s fourth leading scorer with 35 points.
“There’s a lot of pressure on him,” coach Joe Breschi said. “I think he was starting to feel it a little bit. We actually met — myself, coach (Pat) Myers and Chad — to talk about that and taking a little pressure off and playing faster.”
But as the season progressed, Tutton’s aim did not. Coming off of the Duke game, where he made 10 attempts with no connection, it was crucial that Tutton see his shots fall into place. Even more, against the Blue Devils, Tutton’s 19-game scoring streak ended with a goose egg under the goal column in the stat sheet.
He finally found his spark amidst the frost and sleet at Navy Field in the first and third periods, giving the Tar Heels the momentum to top a gritty Crimson squad.
“The last couple games I’ve had a lot of shots, plenty of opportunities that haven’t been had,” Tutton said. “Maybe the goalie is making good saves or I’m just not taking the right shots. But they were dropping for me tonight.”
Harvard managed to capitalized on UNC’s defensive breakdowns in the crease to net two quick goals in the initial minutes of the game. The seasoned Tar Heels responded with a vengeance, striking three times.
Tutton’s unassisted bouncer, which he scooped off a deflection from a defenseman’s head, kissed the inside corner of the net and tied the score 2-2.
“That’s what we want to have: a balance of shots from the defense, from the midfield and not just lopsided from the attack.” said sophomore midfielder Steve Pontrello. “I think this balance is our best offense.”
After what seemed like a call-and-response scoring series from both sides, North Carolina finally managed to preserve its momentum and began to pull away from Harvard. Tutton’s rocket of a shot from nearly 15 yards out put the Tar Heels up with a 10-5 advantage and appeared to be the final blow to Harvard’s enthusiasm .
“Our offense is finally starting to get back into a rhythm,” Tutton said. “We just outworked them.”
Yet, the Crimson never laid down, sinking five goals in the final period to shrink UNC’s lead to three. Tutton proved once again instrumental in sealing North Carolina’s win by blasting shots far and wide in an effort to restart the shot clock and empty the game clock. The victory remedied the Tar Heels’ confidence after the heartbreaking loss to the Blue Devils.
But more importantly, it put to bed Tutton’s identity crisis.
“He’s a terrific player, and we need him to perform like that,” Breschi said. “At the end of the day, it was just him playing looser and playing like Chad.”
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