Bryant never trails, shocks No. 2 seed Syracuse for first tourney win
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- In the most monumental win in program history, Bryant never trailed against second-seeded Syracuse, topping the Orange 10-9 inside the Carrier Dome on Sunday night in the NCAA first round.
With the victory, the Bulldogs (16-4) advance to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time in program history and will take on seventh-seeded Maryland Saturday, May 17 at 12 p.m. on ESPN2.
"There are so many layers to this win," Bryant head coach Mike Pressler said. "Not only was it Syracuse at Syracuse – one of the most storied programs in Division I history – but we did it after playing a play-in game on Wednesday. To beat Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on four short days is a monumental win for our program."
After breaking a 1-1 tie with 22 seconds left in the first quarter, Bryant stayed one step ahead of Syracuse (11-5) through the end of the third, taking a 7-5 lead into the fourth. But it was the Orange who stole the momentum to start the frame, scoring two quick goals in the opening five minutes to knot the game at 7-7 with 10:32 to go in regulation.
Rookie attack Tucker James took command of the game from there, though, putting the visiting Bulldogs back on top off a feed from sophomore midfielder Collins Gantz with 7:52 remaining with his third score of the game. James renewed Bryant's two-goal edge three minutes later on an unassisted tally, but Kevin Rice would draw the Orange back within one 9-8 as the clock ticked below the four-minute mark.
But as they had all game, the Bulldogs continued to fight, responding just 65 seconds later off the stick of leading scorer Shane Morrell, as the sophomore attack netted what would eventually serve as the game winner in the program's first-ever victory against a top-10 opponent and fourth win against a nationally-ranked foe this season.
"The key was that we never let Syracuse take the lead," Pressler said, "and with that goal our confidence grew."
Rice would give the Black and Gold a scare in the game's final seconds, closing the margin to 10-9 with seven seconds to play, but sophomore goalie Gunnar Waldt stood tall between the pipes with eight fourth-quarter saves (13 total) to hold on for the one-goal victory.
"This is the performance we've grown accustomed to for 20 games now," Pressler said of Waldt. "He has been absolutely lights out, and he saved his best performance for the fourth quarter when his teammates needed him the most."
James led all scorers with six points, posting a career-high four goals on just four shots and adding two assists on the day. Senior midfielders Colin Dunster and Alex Zomerfeld each chipped in a pair of scores for the winners, while senior captain JK Poirier and Morrell added single markers on the day. Gantz finished the evening with a pair of assists, while junior faceoff specialist Kevin Massa went 14-of-23 from the faceoff X with a game-high 10 ground balls.
Syracuse got a hat trick from Rice (4 points) and two more goals from Nicky Galasso, as the Bulldogs limited leading scorers Dylan Donahue and Randy Staats to one goal and one assist apiece. The Orange goalie duo of Dominic Lamolinara (5 saves) and Bobby Wardwell (4 saves) combined for nine stops on the night.
The Bulldogs led throughout the first half, taking an early 1-0 edge on a Dunster tally 3:11 in. Syracuse's Hakeem Lecky knotted the contest at 1-1 just 90 seconds later, beating Waldt with a shot across the goal and into side netting, but the scoring would stall from there until the final minute of the opening frame.
With 23 seconds to go, James drove across the field behind the net and swung around from the left, hugging the crease to fire a shot over the left shoulder of Lamolinara for a 2-1 Bulldog lead. And with 2.9 seconds remaining, Poirier made it 3-1 Bulldogs, as the senior captain charged in toward the net and took a pass from James in stride, gunning a one-timer home for the two-goal advantage.
Maltz drew the Orange back within one, 3-2, just 2:24 into the second, but rookie longpole Jared Kaden forced the biggest turnover of his young career at the top of the Orange box and picked up the ground ball, feeding it to James who netted the odd-number rush for a 4-2 Black and Gold lead.
Henry Schoonmaker beat Waldt low with 10:08 to go to bring the Orange back within a score, 4-3, but the Bulldogs would continue to respond. With the stall warning on, Gantz connected with James from behind the net. James swung the ball to Zomerfeld 15 yards out, and the senior made his shot count to move the score to 5-3.
Donahue would get on the board to close out scoring in the second with 4:49 left on the clock, sending the teams into the half with a 5-4 margin favoring the Black and Gold.
The Bulldogs opened the third with their second stall-warning goal of the game -- another scored by Zomerfeld – and Dunster answered Rice's ensuing goal to keep the margin at two goals, 7-5, entering the final 15 minutes.
The win marks the team's fifth in a row and fourth in the past 11 days. It is also Bryant's first victory against an ACC opponent. But the Bulldogs aren't looking ahead to their next ACC matchup quite yet.
"We are going to take two days to enjoy this one," Pressler said. "We'll get to the Terps on Tuesday."