Syracuse saw its slim NCAA Tournament hopes evaporate with a tough 14-13 loss at North Carolina Saturday afternoon, on a beautiful spring day in front of a crowd of 2,749 at Dorrance Field in Chapel Hill, N.C. The defeat dropped the Orange’s record to 4-8, and with only two games left to play SU can not finish with a .500 or better record to qualify for a tournament at-large bid.
Here are three takeaways from the stinging defeat that ended the team’s postseason hopes:
#1: The agony of defeat.
After Syracuse took only its second lead of the game on Brendan Curry’s third goal of the day with 2:16 to play to make it 13-12, Zac Tucci won the ensuing faceoff against Jakob Phaup to give the Tar Heels the ball. SU defender Nick Caccamo subsequently made a great play to cause a turnover, but his pass downfield went out of bounds giving the ball back to UNC with 1:29 to play.
The Tar Heels Lance Tillman responded by scoring on the turnover possession 28 seconds later to the tie the game 13-13, and Tucci again won the next faceoff from Phaup.
That Tar Heels offensive flow subsequently set-up a great move by UNC’s All-American attackman Chris Gray to beat Orange goalie Bobby Gavin with 0:15 left for the game winning goal, and sent Syracuse to its second gut-wrenching defeat of the week following the OT loss to Cornell this past Monday night in the Dome.
While Phaup won the overall faceoff battle 18-to-12, he couldn’t give Syracuse the critical possessions it needed in the game’s final 2:00 to steal a comeback road victory, a win that would have brought some poetic justice to a season in which SU has come up just a little bit short in five close defeats.
Syracuse also struggled with its shooting accuracy against Carolina’s tough goalie Collin Krieg, shooting 54 times with only 31 on goal, and Krieg was sharp with 18 saves.
#2: “50 Shades of Gray.”
While SU’s prolific duo of Tucker Dordevic (three goals, one assist) and Curry (three goals, two assists) kept the Orange in the game and dazzled at times, it was the Tar Heels Gray who again put on a clinic shooting and passing.
Gray, who scored eight points in Carolina’s 21-9 demolition in the Dome last season, finished the afternoon with five goals and an assist, including the nifty “jump shot” game winning goal in the closing seconds, his 44th tally of the season.
With six points on the day, Gray is in fifth place all-time among NCAA Division I scoring leaders with 368 career points, 32 behind number one scorer Lyle Thompson of Albany (2012-15) who has 400 career points.
#3: Head, Heart, and Hustle.
Although Syracuse could end up with its fewest victories in a season since recording five wins in 2007, Gary Gait’s squad has played each opponent tough right down to the wire except in the 20-11 defeat at Virginia February 26, and the 22-6 blowout loss at Notre Dame on April 2.
Even without a shot at the NCAA Tournament, the Orange has a chance to end Gait’s initial year on an up note hosting both of those teams, Virginia next Saturday (April 23) and Notre Dame on May 1 in the season finale. Virginia is the only ACC lock to make the Tournament at number seven in the Tournament Committee’s first Top Ten ranking that came out Saturday, and Notre Dame likely needs to win out versus UNC, SU, and Duke to receive an at large bid.
The opportunity to play spoiler against its ACC rivals with home victories would certainly end what’s been a disappointing season in a positive fashion.