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Monday December 6th

UNC men's lacrosse beats Rutgers and advances to NCAA Tournament semifinals

The UNC men's lacrosse team storms the field after the Tar Heels' 15-12 victory against Duke on Sunday, May 2. With the victory, UNC and Duke share the 2021 ACC regular season title.
Buy Photos The UNC men's lacrosse team storms the field after the Tar Heels' 15-12 victory against Duke on Sunday, May 2. With the victory, UNC and Duke share the 2021 ACC regular season title.

Just as you can be certain that the turf field at Hofstra University's James M. Shuart Stadium will remain green with the changing seasons, you can rely on this year's top-ranked North Carolina men’s lacrosse team to always find a way score.

At least, when it matters. Notching 16.67 goals per game, UNC is the best in the nation at adding tallies to the scoreboard.

When pushed to the edge — with elimination on the line and their first NCAA semifinal appearance since 2016 just an overtime goal away — the Tar Heels scored to beat Rutgers, 12-11.

Give UNC a choppy first half. Have the Tar Heels and Scarlet Knights score just three goals apiece in the opening two quarters — the lowest total for either team this season. Make UNC face Colin Kirst, who put together one of the best seasons of any goalkeeper in the country for Rutgers on his way to earning first-team All-Big Ten recognition. 

Focus your defense almost entirely on UNC senior Chris Gray — one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, signifying the nation’s top lacrosse player — and keep him from slinging a single shot to the back of the cage. 

Keep the Tar Heels to just 11 goals in regulation, tying them for their lowest output of the season. 

It does not matter. The Tar Heels will score.

“I kind of cocked it back once or twice, then realized I had a couple of extra seconds, so I kept stepping in,” graduate midfielder Connor McCarthy, who scored the game-winning overtime goal, said. “Then, thankfully, I got it past Kirst.”

On Saturday, with 1:38 remaining in the four-minute overtime period, it was McCarthy who bullied his way to the front of the net and buried his shot in the back of the cage, advancing the Tar Heels to Championship Weekend. 

“Everyone was doing their job,” Gray said. “Whether it was Justin (Anderson) diving in the corner to save a possession, or Connor sticking the game-winner, it was really just playing for another week with our team, and that just speaks to our love in the locker room.”

To Gray’s point, North Carolina’s offensive lethality is born from an every-minute, every-man effort.  

With the senior attackman held goalless, the Tar Heels offense relied on a varied approach. There were the four goals from sophomore Lance Tillman, earned with a quick first step and slithery skill moves, but then there were the assertive, physical scores from 25-year-old senior Justin Anderson, who tallied three goals of his own. 

At the end of every quarter, the game was tied. It did not matter. Three times in the second half, Rutgers went up by two goals. It did not matter. With just under four minutes remaining in regulation, the Scarlet Knights held an 11-10 lead.  

In no way did that matter. Just five seconds later, the Tar Heels responded with a goal of their own. 

“I love the way we won this game, honestly,” head coach Joe Breschi said. “Obviously we’ve had some games that haven’t been that close. But for us to grit it out, in particular against a really tough, physical team, the way we did in the second half, I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”

Even with the Tar Heels punching their ticket to Championship Weekend, there’s still work to do.

A semifinal matchup with the Virginia Cavaliers looms next Saturday — a team that beat the Tar Heels in their last contest.

A few hours before North Carolina squeaked past Rutgers in the quarterfinal, Virginia put together a dominant performance over Georgetown — winning 14-3. The Cavaliers' last meeting with the Tar Heels was not so overwhelming, with Virginia finishing with an 18-16 victory.

The grass at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. — the host of the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four — may not be turf. But as long as there is a field to play on, the Tar Heels will score. 

The only question now is this: With the Tar Heels on a five-game win streak, will any team be able to outscore one of the most potent attacks in recent memory, before North Carolina hoists its sixth national championship trophy? 

That question cannot be answered until next weekend.

But for now, Gray has made the Tar Heels’ intentions in East Hartford clear.

“It means everything," Gray said. "I think this is why people come to UNC, you really come to win a national championship."

@zachycrain 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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