With a chance at revenge and a spot in the NCAA Championship semifinals on the line, the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team will look to ball security and a defensive stand Sunday against Maryland.
The Tar Heels, who were No. 2 in the nation at the time, were handed their first loss of the season by Maryland earlier this season on March 21.
After being held to single digits in the 10-8 loss, UNC knows it will have to break the Maryland defense to stay in the game.
A win Sunday in Annapolis, Md. would also mean the team’s first Final Four appearance in 22 years. While the team is aware of the drought, its focus is solely on beating No. 6 Maryland, said senior Joey Sankey.
For a team accustomed to piling on the goals, No. 3 UNC’s dynamic will shift against a slow-paced Maryland team.
“We have to impose our will, but also adapt to the style of game that is being presented to us,” Coach Joe Breschi said. “If that (means) long possessions at the defensive end, we’ve got to make sure we’re taking care of the ball at our end.”
In trying to control the ball, the Tar Heels will look to find the balance between safe offensive lacrosse and the fast pace under which they have excelled.
“That’s our style,” Sankey said. “We like to get up and down the field. We really just have to read how the game’s going.”
The two times the Tar Heels have been held to single digits, the team lost.
Offense will be key, and for the Tar Heel offense, that means capitalizing on early opportunities when they present themselves.
“If Maryland has a lot of long possessions like they’re likely to, we have to realize that we can still push in transition but not to rush anything,” Sankey said.
In what’s likely to be another close game, possessions will also be a deciding factor.
In the last game, the Terrapins won the ground ball battle by nine, earning themselves the possessions necessary to hold off UNC. They will look to do the same this time, but the task will be much more difficult against a UNC team that has vastly improved in that area.
The Tar Heels out ground-balled Colgate by 15 in their last game, and look to repeat their dominant performance on Sunday.
The pressure will also be on the Tar Heel defense, as they will likely see possessions lasting longer than two minutes throughout the game.
UNC will look to limit players like Maryland midfielder Joe LoCascio, who scored five goals the last time the two teams faced off.
For a defense that has improved over the season, Maryland's slow tempo will prove both a mental and physical test. The defense is looking to limit players like LoCascio with sound and smart defense.
As LoCascio looks to repeat his success, the Tar Heels have other plans. Sophomore Austin Pifani knows his team will be tested by the Terrapins, but trusts the work that his team has put in since March 21.
“(LoCascio) really shot the ball very well last game,” Pifani said. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing and everything should be alright.”
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