Regular possession of the ball allowed UNC to finish the half with authority and build upon their lead behind a slew of crafty goals from first-year Nicky Solomon and sophomore Alex Trippi. Starting goalkeeper Jack Pezzulla quelled any chance of comeback before halftime with a series of big saves to keep UNC ahead 8-3 going into the break.
Despite a solid first half of play from the Tar Heels, the Paladins showed signs of resurgence to begin the 3rd quarter. Sophomore Jarrett Birch sparked the Furman offensive attack with two quick goals in 42 seconds. UNC still held a 9-6 advantage with 6:22 remaining in the third quarter, but roars from the Paladin sideline indicated that momentum was shifting.
However, a decisive faceoff victory by Tucci stopped the bleeding for the Tar Heels, who then proceeded to rattle off four straight goals and take a commanding 13-6 lead. From there, UNC was able to cruise to a 14-10 victory in its first outing this season on home turf.
Who stood out?
Contributions from the team’s young core were a critical aspect of this non-conference win. Tucci played a major role in helping ice the game for the Tar Heels, finishing his day going 21 for 27 on faceoffs. His performance garnered praise from head coach Joe Breschi.
“He’s the five star player of the game in my eyes,” Breschi said. “If it wasn’t for him, who knows what would have happened.”
Tucci’s standout performance as a first-year is not unusual for underclassman on this UNC team. Two Tar Heels also netted their first career goals, as Brian Cameron and Ara Atayan scored two goals apiece in a crucial second half stretch. The youth movement evident for North Carolina will be key as the Tar Heels hope to return to the NCAA tournament after a one-year hiatus.
“Young guys are dominating right now,” Tucci said. “Breschi knows that. He’s a big supporter of freshman getting on the field.”
When was it decided?
With 13:11 left in the fourth quarter, senior Andy Matthews recorded his career-high fifth assist of the day and found Atayan for his second goal as a Tar Heel, capping off a 5-0 run to put UNC up 14-6.
The sequence marked a series of career high points for both Matthews and Atayan, while also acting as the nail in the coffin in the UNC victory.
Why does it matter?
Furman is a team that has given UNC trouble in the past, most recently taking the Tar Heels to overtime in last year’s 15-14 nailbiter. This win was undoubtedly more convincing, but Breschi still sees room for improvement for his team heading forward.
“We just have got to continue to play with that killer instinct for the whole game,” Breschi said. “Not just for halves or quarters.”
Regardless, the No. 15 Tar Heels remained undefeated in a college lacrosse season full of upsets, after both No. 2 Duke and No. 10 Syracuse fell to unranked opponents last week.
When do they play next?
“We’ve got some big boy games coming up,” Breschi said.
The Tar Heels will face the Harvard Crimson next Saturday at noon, in a home game where they will attempt to remain undefeated in non-conference play. That game will act as a tune-up before North Carolina faces No. 7 Johns Hopkins later this month.
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