DURHAM, N.C. – The 18th-ranked North Carolina men's lacrosse team built a nine-goal halftime lead and held on for a wild 16-15 ACC Championship semifinal game victory over top-ranked Syracuse Friday night at Koskinen Stadium.
With the win, the Tar Heels advanced to the ACC Championship game Sunday at noon against Notre Dame which beat Duke 7-6 in the second semifinal game. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU.
With the victory, North Carolina improved to 7-7 on the season while Syracuse fell to 11-2 on the campaign. With the win, the Tar Heels avenged a 12-11 overtime loss to the #1-ranked Orange at Fetzer Field on April 15. Also with the triumph, Carolina improved to 14-21 all-time against #1-ranked teams in the USILA poll in its history, including a mark of 8-4 in its last 12 games since 2012. UNC is 2-1 against #1-ranked teams in 2017.
UNC also avenged back-to-back ACC Tournament semifinal losses to the Orange in both 2015 and 2016.
Friday's game was one of wild emotional swings with UNC building a nine-goal lead at halftime before Syracuse stormed back with an eight-goal run in the third quarter. That cut UNC's lead to 13-12 heading into the final quarter. The Tar Heels never surrendered the lead, however, and held on for the 16-15 win to reach their first ACC Tournament final since 2013.
Ten different Tar Heels scored in the game and five different players had assists. Chris Cloutier led the Tar Heels with three goals and an assist while Luke Goldstock also had a four-point game with two goals and two assists. Andy Matthews had a goal and three assists. Michael Tagliaferri and Tanner Cook each scored twice for the Tar Heels. Senior long-stick midfielder Jack Lambert, who came into the game with one career goal, had two goals in the first half for the Tar Heels. Timmy Kelly added a goal and an assist while Justin Anderson, Jack Rowlett and Brian Cannon had single goals.
Jordan Evans led the Orange offensively with a goal and a career-high six assists. Sergio Salcido had three goals and two assists for Syracuse while Nick Mariano added a hat trick. Jamie Trimboli and Brendan Bomberry each added two goals for the two-time defending ACC Tournament champion Orange.
UNC had advantages in most statistical areas. UNC outshot the Orange 47-41 and had a 36-31 edge in ground balls. Stephen Kelly won 18 of 32 face-offs for the Tar Heels and had a game-high 11 ground balls.
Brian Balkam played 55:49 in goal for the Tar Heels and made 10 saves while allowing 14 goals. Freshman Jack Pezzulla played the last 4:11 for the Tar Heels and made two saves while allowing a single extra-man goal. Evan Molloy made seven saves for Syracuse while allowing all 16 Tar Heel goals.
Given the frenetic pace of the game, it was relatively turnover free as North Carolina committed just nine turnovers and the Orange had 11 miscues. In the clearing game, UNC went 11 for 13 and Syracuse was 16 for 18. The Orange was three-for-three on the EMO while UNC was two for four.
Luke Goldstock's two goals in the game moved him into fifth place all-time in the category in Tar Heel history. He now has 114 career goals, moving past Jed Prossner, who was fifth previously with 113.
The 18 face-off wins by Kelly were the eighth time he has won 18 or more face-offs in his career. Kelly now has 697 career face-off wins and 363 career ground balls.
Rolling into the ACC Championship game backhanded like pic.twitter.com/LdLn9IDNxv— UNC Men's Lacrosse (@UNCMensLacrosse) April 29, 2017
After Jamie Trimboli opened the scoring for Syracuse, the Tar Heels ran off the last four goals of the first quarter. Justin Anderson and Michael Tagliaferri scored back-to-back unassisted goals, putting the Tar Heels ahead for good in the game at 2-1 with 5:39 left in the first quarter. At 3:58, Chris Cloutier scored a highlight reel goal off an assist by Luke Goldstock while the 30-second shot clock was on and then Andy Matthews tallied off an assist by Timmy Kelly with 1:37 left in the quarter.
UNC opened the scoring in the second quarter on a man-up goal by Brian Cannon, assisted by William McBride, and Timmy Kelly then made it 6-1 in favor of the Tar Heels with 13:22 left in the half with an unassisted tally. Syracuse answered with a transition goal by Peter Dearth, assisted by Salcido just shortly afterwards before the Tar Heels went on another scoring run.
Carolina answered the Dearth goal with a pair of goals by long-stick players in just 24 seconds with Jack Lambert scoring at 12:12 and Jack Rowlett scoring his goal at 11:58. It took just another 13 seconds for the Heels to make it 9-2 when Luke Goldstock scored off an assist by Andy Matthews with 11:45 left in the half. An unassisted goal by Tanner Cook made it 10-2 at 10:39 and then Chris Cloutier notched his second goal, assisted by Goldstock, and it was 11-2 with 8:05 left in the half.
Syracuse scored back-to-back goals before Lambert scored his second goal of the second quarter at 2:49 of the period. Michael Tagliaferri scored five seconds before halftime, assisted by Matthews, and UNC went to the break ahead 13-4.
But as is the case in ACC lacrosse action, a game is never really over and Syracuse went on a furious 8-0 scoring run. Back-to-back goals by Nick Mariano pulled the Orange within 13-10 with 6:35 left in the third quarter. Salcido scored at 3:14 and then a fast break goal with 13 seconds left in the period by Tyson Bomberry cut Carolina's lead to just 13-12 entering the final period.
Carolina freshman Tanner Cook broke the long scoring drought for the Heels by tallying with 10:58 to play in the game off an assist by Andy Matthews. Matt Lane then tallied for Syracuse at 8:05 to again pull the Orange within a single goal.
UNC got two key goals at 5:56 and 5:21 of the fourth quarter to go back up by three goals. Chris Cloutier scored unassisted at 5:56 and then the Tar Heels tallied in a man-up situation at 5:21 with Goldstock scoring his second goal of the game off an assist by Cloutier.
Syracuse pulled within two goals on a tally by Salcido at 4:11. At that point, Tar Heel head coach Joe Breschi subbed in Jack Pezzulla at goal and he made two key saves in the closing minutes. Brendan Bomberry tallied with 27 seconds left on an extra-man situation to pull the Orange within a single goal. The Orange won the ensuing face-off but did not get off a shot as the clock ran out and Carolina earned its spot in the ACC Championship game.
After losing three one-goal decisions earlier this year, Carolina prevailed against Syracuse and can now earn its way into the NCAA Tournament with a win on Sunday.