Syracuse a different team since it last faced Duke

Duke led by one goal at halftime and finished the game on top the last time the Blue Devils clashed with the Syracuse Orange. It was in front of a neutral crowd of 25,934 at MetLife Stadium as a part of the Konica Minolta Big City Classic earlier this season.

Sunday’s Selection Show revealed that the two future ACC rivals will meet again on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The difference in this rematch is that it features a very different Orange team than the one that fell to Duke in April.

One of the most obvious differences is between the pipes. Dominic Lamolinara got the start in the first meeting. He made 10 saves and gave up 12 goals. He struggled in the second quarter, giving up six. The goalkeeper is a crucial player in the team’s momentum during a game. When the Orange scored a goal, Lamolinara needed to make a big save on the other end but he rarely did. That’s why Syracuse could never make a big run to take the lead.

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As of late, freshman Bobby Wardwell has taken over. In the Big East Championship, Wardwell shutout St. John’s in the first half and gave up just three goals in the second. He has taken over as a team leader and a stonewall in net.

Another big difference for the Orange lately has been the offensive production. The first time around, Tim Desko and Tommy Palasek did it all for Syracuse, combining for nine points. Lately, everyone has been getting in on the scoring, giving the Orange multiple weapons and giving opposing defenses headaches.

In the Big East quarterfinal against Villanova, Hakeem Lecky scored twice, Matt Walters emerged with two goals on the extra man opportunities and sharpshooter Scott Loy scored two goals, also. But the recent success of Bobby Eilers has been crucial in the team’s success. Eilers scored four times against Villanova and twice against St. John’s after going scoreless against the Blue Devils in their first meeting.

Eilers has just been more assertive. He has realized that time is running out for him as a member of the Orange and as a senior, he needed to step up. He stepped up in a big way and if that production continues, defensive coaches will have to seriously consider putting a long stick on Eilers rather than JoJo Marasco.

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On the other side of the ball, the Orange has figured out a defensive scheme that is seemingly working. Rather than working strictly in a man-to-man or zone defense, the coaches have settled on a mix of the two. When the stronger defenders like Brian Megill or Matt Harris are out on the field, the Orange plays man-to-man. When some midfielders or weaker defenders get caught on the field, the team plays a zone.

Megill has been a strong piece in Syracuse’s close defense, but I’ve been more impressed with freshman Brandon Mullins’ play as of late. He plays smart and showed that against St. John’s with a couple well-timed double teams, causing turnovers.

The Orange’s face off play has plagued Syracuse all year. Lacrosse is a game of possession and the teams that Syracuse has played have dominated the time with the ball. If the Orange stays around 50 percent at the X, it can be successful. Syracuse had the advantage in face offs against both St. John’s and Villanova in the Big East tournament.

Ricky Buhr has been the guy who has stepped up, grabbing a combined 17-of-31 against the Red Storm and Wildcats. That takes a lot of pressure off of Megill, who was taking face offs before the tournament. He can focus strictly on defense when Buhr is succeeding.

» Syracuse is jelling at the right time

The first time the Orange took on the Blue Devils, it was coming off its first-ever Big East loss. Villanova had just defeated Syracuse at the Carrier Dome by one goal. Syracuse looked flat against Duke and the lack of momentum was the reason for that.

The Orange is coming off a revenge victory against Villanova and a domination of St. John’s that gives the team a huge amount of momentum going into the first round of the tournament. When the Orange bench has been energetic, the team has done a lot better. Momentum, of course, is intangible and hard to measure, but it is a huge part of the game of lacrosse.

Syracuse is peaking at the right time. Winning the Big East Championship gave the Orange the confidence it needs to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Because of that, Duke has one of the toughest first-round matchups this year.

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