The North Carolina men’s lacrosse team defeated Marquette, 10-9, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday. The Tar Heels knocked off the Big East tournament champions and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
NCAA Tournament games aren’t supposed to be played in this tough an atmosphere. Tickets for Marquette’s (11-5) first NCAA Tournament game in lacrosse sold out in roughly 20 minutes Wednesday morning and the crowd gave the Golden Eagles a real home field advantage.
In addition to the atmosphere on the field, the weather was a mess. The temperature was in the mid-30s at gametime and North Carolina (9-6) had to deal with snow flurries during warmups.
UNC rattled off three straight goals to start the second quarter quickly but allowed a late goal to end the second quarter. Blaine Fleming scored his 10th goal of the season with 12 seconds left and put the Golden Eagles behind by only a goal at the half.
In the third quarter, Brian Cannon’s goal with 7:08 left turned the tide in the Tar Heels' favor. That goal was the first of three in a row that North Carolina would score in the second half. The last goal came with 10:46 in the fourth quarter off the stick of Chris Cloutier, the Tar Heels’ 10th of the game.
UNC would not score again. Instead, North Carolina held on for dear life. The Tar Heels committed silly penalties, but then grinded on defense to kill them off. The Tar Heels even gave up two-straight goals to the Golden Eagles, one with 7:36 left and one with 1:07 left in the game. But the Tar Heels did not give up that 10th goal and they ran out of Valley Fields in Milwaukee, Wisc., with a win and an opportunity to play another day
Who Stood Out?
Michael Tagliaferri was excellent for the Tar Heels. He scored three goals, and had one assist on the Tar Heels 10th and what would be the deciding goal of the game.
“He did a terrific job,” Coach Joe Breschi said. “Mike’s just a tremendous athlete, very skilled player, excellent shooter, played within the scheme and really put pressure on Marquette cause they had to short stick him with loosened up the rest of the defense a little bit.”
Tagliaferri was quick to deflect all the credit to his teammates.
“We know that offensively when we play with all six guys, everybody engaged, moving the ball, playing fast, that’s when we are at our best,” he said. “And I thought everybody, all five guys on offense were drawing two, moving it, and putting some pressure on the defense that allowed me to make some plays.”
Other standouts offensively for the Tar Heels included Steve Pontrello and Chris Cloutier, who each pitched in two goals.
When was it decided?
This one was not decided until the final buzzer sounded. Marquette, to its credit, never gave up, which isn’t surprising given some of the context around their program. Marquette played its first regular season game on February 23rd, 2013 against Ohio State and is still trying to prove itself against national competition.
This was the Golden Eagles' first time in the NCAA Tournament and first time hosting an NCAA Tournament game. There was no chance playing in front of a sellout crowd that they wouldn’t take the fight to the Tar Heels until the final buzzer.
“It was just a wild atmosphere and I’m so happy for our guys for just staying the course and not letting all the things they can’t control affect them,” Breschi said. “They just stayed the course and gutted out a big win.”
Why does it matter?
This was a huge win for the North Carolina men’s lacrosse program and for this Tar Heel men’s lacrosse team.
The win allows the Tar Heels to survive and advance in the NCAA Tournament. Pontrello felt that the team might be peaking at the right time for a deep NCAA Tournament run..
“You always want to be peaking in May,” he said. “I think that right now our chemistry is the best its been all season and we are playing well right now and hope to keep it rolling into next weekend.”
Where do they play next?
North Carolina moves on to the quarterfinals in Columbus, Ohio and will play either Notre Dame or Air Force next weekend.
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