Item: A tough-to-penetrate zone defense employed by upstart Bryant Sunday night led to the No. 2 seed Orange’s 10-9 demise in the NCAA Tournament first round, its earliest home playoff exit since 2010.
This NCAA pairing looked tricky from the time it was announced a week ago, the second-seeded Orange drawing either a rematch from a regular season rout against Siena, or a rematch from a tough, five goal, first-round tournament win a season ago against Bryant, and indeed the Bulldogs, who had to squeak by Siena just to make it back to the Dome, were not the same team that ran out of gas in the fourth quarter last year to come up short of a monumental upset.
Oh, the Bryant faceoff domination was evident again this time around with star Kevin Massa winning 14 of 23 draws, although similar to his second half of the season turnaround, Chris Daddio stepped up in the fourth quarter with SU trailing the entire evening, giving the Orange (11-5) one final desperate chance down a goal with seven seconds to play, only to have Dylan Donahue’s shot stopped by BU’s gutsy goalie Gunnar Waldt who finished the evening with 13 saves on a gimpy ankle.
It was also Bryant’s methodical zone” D” and a Bulldogs freshman attackman that gave the Orange fits, further proof that this was not the Bryant team with a losing record of a year ago.
With only two ties and never having the lead down by a goal or two most of the night, the ’Cuse failed to get into any rhythm on offense against the packed-in tight Bryant (16-4) defense challenging the Orange, middies especially, to shoot. Attackman Kevin Rice was forced to move out of his more customary spots behind the cage yet still wiggled in and around the BU defense for three goals and an assist, including the last Orange score to make it a one goal game.
But it was Bryant rookie attack Tucker James, who’s four goals and game-high six points were spread out during all four quarters, that kept SU at bay. Jame’s fourth goal extended the lead to 9-7, just enough of a margin before Waldt’s last stop of Donahue at the final horn.
After last season’s run to the national championship game and a respectable first year of play in the ACC, Sunday night’s upset loss to Bryant is an extremely disappointing ending to a season that included a win over the NCAA Tournament’s eventual top seed Duke and a second place ACC Tournament finish, and the quick tourney exit extends the program’s national title drought to five years, the longest since the first national championship in 1983.