On Saturday afternoon, the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team fell to No. 6 Virginia, 14-13, in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament after the Tar Heels were unable to hold on to a late four-goal lead.
Early in the game, UNC (8-7, 1-3 ACC) was in a situation similar to its first-round game against No. 7 Syracuse. The Tar Heels gave up three goals in the first five minutes of the first period and were forced to fight an uphill battle practically from the opening faceoff.
Senior attackman Andy Matthews helped get UNC back into the game, scoring a goal and picking up an assist in the first period, but the Tar Heels were still down 6-3 heading into the second quarter.
In the next two periods, North Carolina played close to perfect. The Tar Heels scored seven straight unanswered goals to highlight an 8-2 scoring run throughout the second and third quarters. However, as head coach Joe Breschi mentioned after the game, no lead is too large.
“You’re never too comfortable against Virginia,” Breschi said. “…They made the plays that they needed to.”
North Carolina led, 12-8, early in the fourth quarter before Virginia ended the game on a 6-1 run, scoring the game-winning goal with just 90 seconds remaining in the fourth period.
UNC has been no stranger to close losses this season. This game marked the fifth time the Tar Heels have lost by two goals or less, and in each of those games, North Carolina was tied or had the lead at halftime. Breschi commented on what his team’s effort has meant to him.
“I’m so proud of our guys. After that dogfight on Thursday night, to come out here and play the way we did (...) I couldn’t be more proud of the way we fought,” Breschi said. “48 hours after playing a hell of a game against Syracuse, to give everything we had until the last shot of the game. What more can you ask?”
Who stood out?
Junior Justin Anderson helped guide the offense throughout that 8-2 scoring run in the middle of the game. The midfielder went unassisted to score the first goal of the run, dished out an assist to sophomore Alex Trippi midway through the third period and scored the final goal of the run, his 19th of the season, in the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Senior Jack Rowlett has been steady for the North Carolina defense all season, and Saturday was no different. The defensemen played a crucial role in stopping the Virginia offense for a large portion of the match as the UNC defense held UVA scoreless for 26:17 of game time.
When was it decided?
Saturday's matchup was a game of runs, and whichever offense could gain momentum in the final minutes was going to be the team that won. In this case, that was Virginia, as the Cavaliers scored two goals in the final 3:05 to advance.
With 5 seconds remaining, UVA called a timeout and the Tar Heels had a chance to coordinate their attempt at a final shot by Rowlett to force overtime.
“We tried to flood the inside and lob it over to one of our hardest shooters and we were hoping maybe he could get one off,” Breschi said. “We just wanted to flood the rest of the guys toward the cage and they sucked right in and he was wide open.”
However, Rowlett’s shot missed wide and the final buzzer blared to end the game.
Why does it matter?
A win would’ve given North Carolina three top-10 wins this year, improving its case for a spot in the NCAA Tournament and advancing UNC to its first ACC Tournament finals appearance since 2017, when the Tar Heels won the conference tournament.
When do they play next?
North Carolina’s season is still up in the air as the Tar Heels wait to hear about selections for the NCAA Tournament. Two wins against top-10 teams and multiple narrow defeats leaves UNC hoping for a postseason bid and a shot at a national title.
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