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Physical play lifts No. 10 UNC men's lacrosse to gritty win over Brown

MLAX Madeline Crumpler 02_23_22-07.jpg
Junior attackman Lance Tillman (0) prepares to catch a pass during a men's lacrosse game in Dorrance Stadium against Brown University on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. UNC won 14-11.

Despite its offensive struggles, face-offs and ground balls ultimately prevented the No. 10 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team from suffering back-to-back losses against an unranked opponent.

The Tar Heels defeated Brown, 14-11, at Dorrance Field on Wednesday afternoon. UNC went 21-28 on face-offs and scooped 41 ground balls to the Bears' 24, and were led by senior face-off midfielder Zac Tucci, who won 18 face-offs and collected eight ground balls.

“It was as bad as it gets on Saturday against Ohio State,” head coach Joe Breschi said. “Beyond proud of what these guys did in a quick three-day turnaround.”

Coming off a 20-8 home blowout loss against Ohio State on Saturday, the Tar Heels stormed into Wednesday’s contest with renewed zeal.

They got off to a fast 4-1 start in the first eight minutes. But then, things started to go awry.

The Bears responded with three goals of their own — all stemming from Tar Heel turnovers. Sloppy passes in the midfield hindered the juggernaut North Carolina offense from getting any real looks.

“Brown plays a unique style,” Breschi said. “They run, run, run. It caused us a little angst.” 

By halftime, UNC had turned the ball over 13 times — the most in any half this season. The trend continued for the rest of the game, as did the Tar Heels’ chaotic shot selection.

UNC attempted 48 shots, with only 24 being on goal, as opposed to the methodical Bears, who went 28-38 for shots on goal.

“We’re still figuring things out,” senior attacker Jacob Kelly said. “It’s not just gonna click.”

The lack of quality looks on UNC’s offensive end allowed the score to be tied, 11-11, with under five minutes in regulation.

But then, penalties on Brown awarded North Carolina multiple extra-man opportunities, and the Tar Heels wasted no time taking advantage.

Senior attacker Nicky Solomon stood center to the cage, surveying the Bears’ defense with the ball in pocket. He swung it to Kelly, who was parked near the right side of the cage.

Kelly immediately lobbed the ball to midfielder Cole Herbert, who stood wide open in the middle of the crease. The 6-foot-3 sophomore reached up, caught the ball, and slung it into the cage — all while being seemingly suspended midair.

“I was just chilling on the inside, and we were getting good ball movement,” Herbert said. “And I guess the defense just expanded a lot.”

Thirty-five seconds later, the same play happened — a Kelly lob to a Herbert jam that extended the Tar Heel lead to two.

Capitalizing on the penalties was long overdue, as the Tar Heels went 0-3 on extra-man opportunities through the first three periods, whereas Brown went 3-3 in the same stretch.

On paper, the game wasn’t a must-win for North Carolina. With a robust ACC schedule, the team will have plenty of ranked matches down the line, including bouts with No. 2 Virginia, No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 7 Duke.

But the chippy, back-and-forth affair with Brown served as an opportunity to bounce back from an embarrassing loss. A wake-up call to pinpoint what’s working — like face-offs — and more importantly, what’s not working, like shot selection.

Because from here, the competition only gets tougher for the Tar Heels, and they’ll face their first ranked opponent in No. 13 Johns Hopkins on Sunday. To make a deep postseason run with its star-studded roster, the team can’t afford to have countless unforced errors — be it rushed shots or turnovers.

And when the offense does start clicking, it can’t be as late as the fourth period against championship-caliber teams.

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@dthports |

Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.