Heading into its final regular season game, the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team is still looking to clinch an at-large bid in the 16-team NCAA Tournament.
When the Tar Heels face top-ranked Notre Dame on May 6, they’ll have a prime opportunity to potentially punch their ticket.
Just last week, UNC fell to the Fighting Irish, 16-9, in a game that saw Notre Dame dominate offensively. Given North Carolina’s No. 14 ranking in the RPI, a win would go a long way in securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
With its season on the line, here are two keys that could help the Tar Heels pull off the upset.
The Tar Heels immediately dug themselves into a hole in the last matchup by falling behind 6-1 through the first 15 minutes of play. Although the team closed the gap in the second quarter, UNC was outscored 4-1 in the third and ultimately couldn’t recover.
UNC has dropped five of its last nine games, and the Tar Heels were outscored in the first period in all but one of their losses. Setting the tone of a matchup is critical against any team, but that importance is magnified when facing a top-ranked opponent like Notre Dame, whose high-powered offense ranks second in the nation with 16.4 goals per game.
Part of the North Carolina’s struggles to come out firing relates to its occasional carelessness with the ball, as the Tar Heels committed seven turnovers in the first period and five in the third against the Fighting Irish on Saturday. When the team improved its play in the second period, it only turned the ball over three times.
Although the Tar Heels were eventually able to respond offensively – primarily thanks to hat tricks from sophomore Dewey Egan and first-year James Matan – Notre Dame jumped out to its early lead by building a 15-8 shot margin in the first quarter, which put tremendous pressure on the Tar Heels' back line. If UNC hopes to dictate the tempo early, the team will need to make the most of its opportunities and eliminate extra possessions for the Fighting Irish offense.
Lock in defensively
It might be stating the obvious, but the Tar Heels perform much better when their defense is clicking.
North Carolina’s 35 goals over the past three games should have been enough to squeak out at least one victory, but defensive shortcomings have the team in the midst of a rare losing streak.
Slowing down the star Notre Dame sibling tandem of Pat and Chris Kavanagh is a difficult proposition for any team, but the Tar Heels demonstrated the ability to play solid defense in small spurts this season. Amid UNC's recent struggles in the backfield, the team still ranks a respectable 12th in the nation with just 10.38 goals allowed per game, thanks in large part to the efforts of junior goalkeeper Collin Krieg.
Despite losing to the Fighting Irish, the team demonstrated its physicality by winning the faceoff battle and preventing Notre Dame from holding a considerable advantage in the ground ball department, two key components for building a stable defensive unit.
As the team looks to get back on track and return to the postseason following a one-year absence, the Tar Heels will need to play a complete game to come out on top. While the team has shown its potential in spurts, the final matchup will be the last chance to piece it all together.
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