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The Daily Tar Heel

North Carolina advances in ACC Tournament with 16-15 win over Syracuse

The No. 18 North Carolina men's lacrosse team (7-7) shot out to a massive lead in the semifinals of the ACC tournament over top ACC seed and No. 1 ranked Syracuse (11-2). After a furious comeback by the Orange, UNC hung on for a dramatic 16-15 win to keep its season alive and advance to the ACC championship game.

What happened?

With their season on the line, the fourth-seed Tar Heels shot out of the gates with an aggressive offensive front. After falling behind by a goal in the opening three minutes, UNC reeled off four goals in the first quarter as it built a 6-1 lead in the first 17 minutes of the game.

A goal by redshirt junior Chris Cloutier extended a dream run by the Tar Heels as they exploded to an 11-2 lead. The stretch didn’t last. The early fireworks subsided just as the Syracuse offense found their stride. The third quarter was all Orange, as the team shot off six unanswered goals to drive the score to 13-12 heading into the fourth quarter.

The final quarter provided a flurry of dramatics. Cloutier and All-ACC senior Luke Goldstock helped build the lead to 16-13, but in the closing minute the Orange had the ball on a man-up opportunity, and Brendan Bomberry notched a diving shot at the goal to bring the game to 16-15.

With less than 30 seconds remaining, the Tar Heels protected their lead for a dramatic one goal win and advanced to the finals of the ACC tournament.

Who stood out?

Cloutier, Goldstock and sophomore Andy Matthews each contributed a team-high four points in the victory. Goldstock and Cloutier provided much of the offense late, exploiting every opening in the Syracuse defense.

Cloutier getting hot is essential for the Tar Heels if they hope to take the ACC title and even have a chance to be selected for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. A season ago, he was essential in the underdog run which culminated in a national championship.

Besides an inspired third quarter from the Orange, the Tar Heel defense stood strong in the face of elimination. Led by All-ACC senior Austin Pifani, the defense limited the top team in the nation to six less shots than the Tar Heels. The Tar Heels won the groundball, faceoff and turnover games, and redshirt junior Brian Balkam notched 12 saves compared to Syracuse’s seven.

When was it decided?

With less than 30 seconds remaining, Syracuse converted a dramatic extra-man opportunity to bring the game within one. The Tar Heels hoped to control the face off, but the ball got loose and Syracuse scooped the possession. The Orange had an opportunity to shoot for the win and the UNC defense needed to come up with a stop. They did, holding strong to preserve the win.

Why does it matter?

From this point on, each game means absolutely everything for the UNC team. Its next loss would likely be its final game because of the team's poor regular-season record.

After building a nine-point lead, the Tar Heels ceded every opportunity as the Orange scraped back to come within one goal. The Tar Heels have struggled to preserve leads this year, and their season seemed destined to end on another blown opportunity.

For the Tar Heels to stand strong in the closing seconds of the game against the top ranked team, with their season on the line, shows the kind of resilience that led to their historic run to the title a season ago.

With the ACC not having an auto-bid to the NCAA tournament this season, the Tar Heels must win the conference championship game convincingly to have even a chance to be considered for the national tournament field this season.

Where do they play next?

The Tar Heels will compete for the ACC championship game on Sunday at noon against the winner of the No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 3 Duke game.


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