The No. 4 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team (5-0) took its offensive arsenal out west on Sunday and extended its undefeated start to the 2020 season with a 15-13 road victory over No. 11 Denver (3-2).
The altitude did little to slow UNC early on, as the Tar Heels' balanced offensive attack quickly jumped out to a 5-0 lead.
Denver wasn’t able to run a settled offensive set until the second quarter and wasn't able to put points on the board until it was given the opportunity to rest the defense and play a slower game.
While Denver demonstrated flashes of potential — with goals from senior third team All-American Ethan Walker — UNC’s control over the pace of play kept such moments few and far between to begin the game.
Highlighted by a flashy behind-the-back goal from sophomore Nicky Solomon, head coach Joe Breschi’s team played this season’s most complete half of lacrosse on its way to a 9-3 lead at the break.
The third quarter was more of the same for the UNC, as it stretched its lead out to eight goals, entering the fourth quarter with a 13-5 lead. Junior Chris Gray found the back of the net after a relatively quiet first half, and it appeared that the Tar Heels’ went into cruise control.
However, a fourth-quarter blitz by the Pioneers injected some drama into what had been an otherwise uneventful 2020 campaign for the UNC men's lacrosse program. The Tar Heels began to give multiple possessions in a row to the home team, allowing Denver to settle into its offense.
After leading by eight goals with 11 minutes left in the game, a four-goal flurry cut North Carolina's lead to four in just under three minutes. Noticing their control was slowly slipping away, the Tar Heels regrouped for a final offensive outburst, notching two final goals to propel them to a 15-9 lead that would prove insuperable in the final six minutes.
The Pioneers showed perseverance late, despite slim odds to climb out of a six-goal deficit. Ethan Walker and junior Jack Hannah scored four straight to end the game, but UNC was able to escape their road trip to Colorado with a hard-earned 15-13 victory.
Who stood out?
While Gray received most of the attention from Denver’s defense, senior captain Justin Anderson took command of the Tar Heel offense, finishing the day with five goals and two assists.
His seven-point outing included career-highs in both total points and goals for the midfielder from Las Vegas. Anderson’s ability to step up when the team’s go-to option was limited demonstrates the versatility and depth of Breschi’s scoring options, a characteristic that will serve UNC well as Gray’s legend continues to grow in the college lacrosse world.
When was it decided?
The Pioneers made a comeback effort midway through the fourth quarter, rattling off four goals to cut the Tar Heels' lead to four before Anderson finished off a career-day by closing the door on Denver.
His two consecutive goals in the fourth quarter stretched the lead back out to six for UNC and proved to be the deciding factor between a quality road win and a fourth-quarter collapse.
Why does it matter?
UNC is now undefeated after five games, with Sunday’s win marking its second road win in a row against a ranked opponent. The Tar Heels have scored 89 times in those five wins, while the defense has allowed just 43 goals.
This margin of victory represents UNC’s hottest start to a season since 2015 and should give fans confidence going forward as the team prepares for a grueling conference schedule against some of the nation’s top squads.
When do they play next?
The North Carolina men’s lacrosse team will return to action on the east coast on Friday when the Tar Heels take on Furman at 6 p.m. in Greenville, South Carolina.
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