OLNEY, Md. – With 12 seconds to go, North Carolina men’s lacrosse’s hopes of escaping Maryland with a win were scrapped.
A dodge from Syracuse midfielder Michael Leo past the lunging body UNC senior defender Matt Wright and a diving shot into the crease secured the 15-14 win for Syracuse on Saturday at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School.
It wasn’t meant to go this way.
For eight players on the men’s lacrosse roster, it was meant to be a trip back home to Maryland. For the coaching staff, it was meant to be a showcase of what the program has to offer in an area seething with lacrosse talent.
Instead, it was just another game that added to the team's recent skid.
Less than two months ago, North Carolina boasted a 3-1 record and was coming off a 19-13 win over the Orange. Since then, the Tar Heels have lost four of their last eight games and now find themselves on the bubble of making the NCAA Tournament.
To add to the growing list of disappointment, the Tar Heels largely dominated the Orange on Saturday and put themselves in a good position to win the game. But instead, they were on the wrong side of the result.
Despite winning 22 of the 32 face offs and outshooting Syracuse 50-36, the loss left the Tar Heels with a bitter taste.
“They didn’t shoot the ball well in the second half, and they should’ve been leading by more than a handful of goals early,” ESPN lacrosse analyst Quint Kessenich said. “They dominated play the first 25 minutes of the game, yet they only led by two goals (at halftime).”
This isn’t the first time this year that UNC found itself in a good spot of winning a game before coming up short. In a clash against Denver on March 4, the Tar Heels were up 8-7 with just three minutes to go before letting the Pioneers score two quick goals to snatch the game out of their hands.
Now, instead of two wins that would have boosted their resume and likely have put them comfortably into the tournament field with a 9-3 record and four top 20 wins, they’re 7-5 and on the bubble.
It’s not all dreary for the Tar Heels, though, according to the metrics. The win put Syracuse into the RPI top 20, and the NCAA Tournament committee places a strong emphasis on a team's strength of schedule.
While North Carolina closes the season with back-to-back matchups against No. 2 Notre Dame, the inter-conference matchup has its positives.
Playing the Fighting Irish will boost the Tar Heels' strength of schedule and RPI regardless of the game's final result. Because Notre Dame is a quality opponent, North Carolina will likely secure its place in the tournament if they are able to steal just one of its remaining regular season games.
However, winning games against top teams has been hard as of late for the Tar Heels, but even with their backs against the wall, head coach Joe Breschi knows what needs to be done.
“Statistically, I like where we’re at and what we did (on Saturday) but at the end of the day we have to cash in on our opportunities, we have to play better defense and play six-on-six down the stretch against a really good offense," he said.
@dthsports | firstname.lastname@example.org
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.