To say that UNC’s defense carried its lacking offense in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament to defeat Loyola Maryland on Thursday night would be a major understatement.
The Tar Heels ultimately won in penalty kicks, 4-2, after failing to score for 110 minutes of regulation and overtime. Meanwhile, North Carolina graduate goalkeeper Alec Smir finished with three saves, along with a key block in the penalty shootout.
“We were unable to move the ball as fast as we wanted,” graduate defender Filippo Zattarin said. “We weren’t able to create superiority in terms of numbers up top, so we just weren’t making enough runs.”
The game started out textbook for the Tar Heels. All season long, the name of the game for UNC has been offensive pressure, as the team has ranked third in the ACC in shots per game. As expected, North Carolina held a 7-1 shot advantage in the first half.
After 45 minutes, neither team had managed to score. No surprise there, either — before Thursday, seven of North Carolina’s 18 games had opened with a scoreless first half.
But the second half was a different story. Loyola’s defense suffocated UNC, holding the team to zero shots.
“Our match sharpness was poor,” head coach Carlos Somoano said. “That’s on me. Whatever I did to prepare the team for this game didn’t hit the mark.”
Additionally, the elevated win-or-go-home stakes only amplified the match’s physicality — Loyola had 21 fouls along with four yellow cards. The chippy Greyhound defense heavily contributed to their second-half dominance.
Despite Loyola outshooting UNC 3-0 in the second half, regulation play ended scoreless. The Greyhounds did, however, demonstrate that quality trumps quantity, as two of those three shots were on goal, forcing saves from Smir.