White-knuckle, nail-biting games are almost guaranteed for Syracuse’s NCAA tournament run

Ben Williams is once again the key to SU's NCAA run
Ben Williams is once again the key to SU’s NCAA run

Ten one-goal games and another this past Saturday that essentially was have had Syracuse men’s lacrosse fans on edge all season. So, brace yourselves when Syracuse begins play in the NCAA tournament this coming weekend. White-knuckle, nail-biting, tense moments are almost guaranteed.

Against Colgate this past weekend, Syracuse (12-2) had an opportunity to quell any doubts about its tournament-readiness, especially coming off a loss to North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals. Yet the Raiders (5-9) gave the Orange a pretty good scare.

After going up 3-0 six minutes into play, Syracuse let Colgate into the game. The Raiders went on a 7-3 run, putting the Orange in a hole more than halfway through the third quarter. And almost predictably, Syracuse gathered itself, rallied, and won by a “comfortable” two goals, 11-9, thanks to a full-field Evan Molloy heave as time expired.

The Colgate game was just another reminder that Syracuse has looked brilliant at times this season and mere pedestrian at others. The team has yet to piece together a full 60 minutes. Just looking at goals by period shows the story:

Goals by period 1 2 3 4 OT Total
Syracuse 47 34 47 44 3 175
Opponents 40 39 27 35 0 141

The Orange has played up and down to its opponents. Among its one-goal games, its opponents have finished their seasons 14-2 (Albany), 12-4 (Army), 8-7 (Virginia), 1-13 (St. John’s), 8-6 (Johns Hopkins), 11-4 (Duke), 8-5 (Notre Dame), 8-7 (North Carolina twice), and 11-5 (Binghamton).

On one hand, the team can say it has plenty of experience in tight contests and has come out on top all but twice. On the other, perhaps its magic will run out in the tournament.

And I suspect the Orange will go as Ben Williams goes.

The team’s loss to Army early in the season came when All America faceoff specialist Ben Williams was ruled out with an injury. In that game, Army won 17 draws to Syracuse’s 13. The Black Knights also outpaced the Orange in ground balls (31-24) and shots (47-31).

As one of the best in the game the past few years, Williams has won a more pedestrian 55.9 percent of his draws this season. Yet in the come-from-behind, regular-season victory against North Carolina, he won 68 percent of faceoffs, including nine of the final 11.

In the ACC tournament game against the Tar Heels, Williams won 16-of-31 draws, yet the team lost 13 in a row in the first half. Those failures allowed North Carolina to build an 11-2 lead. Then Williams won six in a row—and 12 of the next 13—as Syracuse clawed back into the game. Though the rally fell short, the game showed just the sort of impact Williams has on it.

Williams also has won all three of the team’s overtime draws this season.

Sure, for Syracuse to break its national title drought, Evan Molloy, Sergio Salcido, Nick Mariano, the Bomberrys, and others will need to step up, but it may all come down to the X.

Win or lose, you can bet on more tight contests, with betfaircasino.com giving Syracuse a -120 line on winning the NCAA Championship.

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About Dan Brannigan 71 Articles
Dan is currently the editor of Common Ground magazine for Community Associations Institute (CAI) where he has won an Association Media & Publishing award for newswriting. Dan has also won a New England Press Association award while working for the The Inquirer and Mirror in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he grew up. Dan is a 2005 Syracuse University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @djbranni.