Item: Moments after his team advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals by defeating Marist 20-8 Sunday night, along the Syracuse bench area TV microphones picked up head coach John Desko first congratulating his team on a job well done in turning back the aggressive Red Foxes, and then he proclaimed, “Time to get ready for the Blue Jays,” to which several players in unison echoed loudly, “Get ready for the Blue Jays.” And why not? Short of Albany’s first round 19-10 domination of Cornell, there wasn’t a more impressive opening weekend performance than that of John Hopkins in its 19-7 blowout win at Virginia, and from the Hopkins perspective, now it’s time to settle up from SU’s 13-10 regular season victory at the Dome back on March 14.
Deprived of rematch No. 1 in its 2015 postseason foray as a result of Marist stopping Bryant in last week’s NCAA play-in game, then subsequently bombing the Red Foxes Sunday night with numerous offensive spurts on route to scoring the most goals since netting 21 in the Feb. 7 season opener against Siena, no worries; a big regular season rematch looms next for the ‘Cuse on Sunday (12:00 p.m. ET / ESPN2) against arguably the hottest of all NCAA contenders, with the added element of the fact that the game at Navy’s Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium is just 33 miles from the Jays Homewood Field home.
“They’re really a great shooting team, (and) it looks like they’ve hit their stride, playing pretty well at both ends of the field,” SU coach John Desko said after the Jays shot over a scorching 50% into the goal in the first half against UVA while essentially ending matters at halftime up 13-2, on route to winning their sixth straight game.
“We know they’re going to be fired up; the game’s in their backyard down in Annapolis. We’ve got to go down, and play well, take care of business, and I’ve got to get in these guys heads (the team as a whole) it’s a different team we’re playing this time around.”
That shouldn’t be too difficult when the first round playoff video is dissected at Manley Field House this week, and while it’s true that Johns Hopkins is not the same team from March, either is the veteran-laden Orange, receiving top-notch play from players who’ve started contributing as the season as progressed.
None of which was bigger to provide a boost to the start of the postseason run than sophomore Jordan Evan’s five goal, out-of-nowhere, display of shooting against Marist. The former Syracuse-area high school standout easily surpassed his season total of three goals, and showed that when SU’s big three attackmen of Kevin Rice, Dylan Donahue and Randy Staats are forced away from the cage, there are plenty of options scattered around the field that know how to finish.
“It starts in practice,” said Evans, who dons the program’s famed No. 22 jersey, following his career scoring output against Marist. “We watch these guys (the starting attack in practice) and sometimes they don’t even need six guys on offense, they only need their three against (the defense’s) six (players). They find each other, and they all know where each other is going to be (on the field). The defense focuses so much on them, in playing them off ball that we can get open a lot easier.”
A similar challenge awaits the Syracuse defense Sunday, a unit that adjusted well as the Marist game progressed in constantly communicating and focusing on off-ball assignments. Not only did the Blue Jays shoot lights out against Virginia, they scored on a hidden ball trick and on amazing, one-handed goals by standout brothers Shack (FR) and Wells (SR) Stanwick.
But the one X factor if the Orange can advance to Philadelphia and the Final Four has been the highlight of the season, Ben Williams’s dominant performances in facing off and giving the offense the ball.
“With Ben, when he gets going, he’s such a good athlete, he has such good timing that once he gets on a roll it’s hard to stop him,” said Rice, who has benefitted from so much possession time this season on the way to a team-high 77 points. “For us (the attack unit), we just need to make sure we put the ball in the net and take advantage of the opportunities that he gives us.”