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Sunday June 26th

UNC men's lacrosse travels to South Bend looking for marquee win against Notre Dame

UNC senior attackman Chris Gray (4) prepares to catch the ball during the game against Notre Dame on April 25, 2021 at Kenan Stadium. The Tar Heels' defeated the Fighting Irish 12-10.
Buy Photos UNC senior attackman Chris Gray (4) prepares to catch the ball during the game against Notre Dame on April 25, 2021 at Kenan Stadium. The Tar Heels' defeated the Fighting Irish 12-10.

As the game clock nestled against the brick wall of Dorrance Field ticked below 20 seconds on Saturday, it appeared as though the North Carolina men's lacrosse team would be heading to overtime against Syracuse.

But Chris Gray had other plans.

The graduate attacker whizzed behind the cage and looped around to an opening between two Orange defenders. With his back to the target, Gray spun, leaped and launched a shot that feathered into the back of the net, lifting the Tar Heels to a 14-13 victory.

The last-second win earned UNC its first conference win of the season while also snapping a two-game losing skid.

Yet, in a conference that boasts four top-20 teams, the Tar Heels’ schedule steepens as the regular season comes to a close.

On Thursday, No. 15 North Carolina will travel to South Bend, Ind. to take on the No. 9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in hopes of earning a marquee win that would bolster the Tar Heels’ NCAA Tournament resume.

Here are three keys that could help UNC earn the upset victory.

Find help for Gray

Gray’s impact this year stretches far beyond his late-game heroics against Syracuse.

After leading the ACC in goals a season ago with 49, the New York native appears to be well on his way to topping the production from his senior campaign. Through 12 games, Gray’s 44 goals give him the team lead by a wide 25-goal margin.

But, as seen in the Tar Heels’ underwhelming 8-4 record, Gray needs a sidekick to couple his offensive output —  which is where Nicky Solomon enters the fold.

The senior attackman has notched 18 goals this year — good for third on the team — and whenever Solomon nets multiple goals, the Tar Heels tend to win. In North Carolina’s last six wins, Solomon has had multi-goal games in five of those victories, including three hat tricks.

For UNC to break through a top-notch Notre Dame defense, Solomon is going to need to have a big game.

Start strong

Strong starts, whether in the first quarter or half, have come at a premium for North Carolina this season.

UNC’s halftime lead against Syracuse on Saturday snapped a streak of four consecutive games in which the Tar Heels have not led at the break. UNC has won all but one of its games in which they held the halftime advantage, with the lone blemish coming against Virginia in early March.

So, getting off to a quick start, paired with heady shot selection, is something the Tar Heels will need to generate against the Fighting Irish.

Withstand the road

In all but two of their contests, the Tar Heels have competed within the comfort of North Carolina blue seats. The lone road games this year have been against High Point and Virginia — two teams within a driving distance of Chapel Hill.

Notre Dame will offer a different kind of challenge travel-wise. The weekday bout will require the team to fly, which could impact how the Tar Heels compete in the early goings of the game.

Slow starts have been a habit of this year’s team and fighting the woes of prolonged travel coupled with the mid-week start will be a tall task.

If the Tar Heels can overcome these challenges, they’ll have a chance to pick up the team’s second conference win of the season — and their first win against a ranked opponent on the road.

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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