UNC buries Lehigh in NCAA lacrosse opener
The top-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels opened first-round NCAA Tournament play with a decisive 16-7 victory over 10th-ranked Lehigh in front of 1,405 spectators at Fetzer Field on Saturday.
The Tar Heels (13-3), seeded fifth in the tournament, put together an offensive barrage that highlighted goals from 11 different players and eventually overwhelmed the Mountain Hawks (12-5) to extend the team’s current win streak to 10 games.
Senior attackman Marcus Holman led UNC in overall scoring (one goal, four assists), while midfielder Chad Tutton and Jimmy Bitter each recorded the eighth hat tricks of their careers.
“It was a great game,” UNC coach Joe Breschi said. “I was really proud of our guys after a slow start, being down 2-1. I think we just continued to keep to the game plan, and we took advantage of some transition opportunities. That’s what really got us started.”
Faceoff man R.G. Keenan’s work at the faceoff X was the difference according to both coaches, as he won 15 of 22 draws to give the Tar Heels possession of the ball throughout the game.
UNC put together scoring runs of 6-2, 3-2 and 6-1 during the remaining three quarters that minimized Lehigh’s opportunities to ever get close.
“I thought we did a good job of sharing the ball and drawing double-teams,” Holman said. “I thought (in) the second quarter we kind of got settled in and started putting a lot of our shots on the goal and kind of caved in on them.”
Defensively, the Tar Heels played an exceptional game in containing Lehigh’s offensive threats while allowing freshman goalkeeper Kieran Burke to make eight saves on the 15 shots he faced throughout the game.
“Just to stay calm and to stay focused,” Burke said of what he did to handle himself in playing and winning his first NCAA tournament game. “It feels great. You’ve got to take it one step at a time. You can’t let your head get too big. It feels good, but we still got three to go.”
UNC’s work in unsettled situations also helped to pick up 38 ground balls to Lehigh’s 25, and allowed the Tar Heels to maintain long periods of ball possession once they cleared the ball up to the offense.
From there, UNC’s offense kept Lehigh’s defense busy and wore them down in the hot, humid playing conditions.
As Holman rotated from behind the cage to the top-center position, he helped feed open shooters all game as the Tar Heels unleashed 53 shots towards the Mountain Hawks cage and goalkeeper Matt Poillon.
Poillon made a career-high 17 saves, but in the end, the depth of UNC’s offense became too difficult to stop.
“It’s kind of tough,” Poillon said about seeing shots coming from so many different players. “When you see that many shots — different techniques of shooting — it’s hard to get used to one kind of shot. They changed their range a lot. They were putting bank shots in, low-to-high, high-to-low. They did a great job of shooting.”
In preparing for their next game in the quarterfinals against fourth-seeded Denver at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on May 19, the Tar Heels will not change their mindset or routine in any way as their season continues for another week.
“I think we’re going to do what we do,” Breschi said. “Obviously, we’re going to prepare. These guys are well prepared for every game. They listen and they go out there and execute.”
It’s a detailed, yet relaxed regimen that has helped put this Tar Heels team in a position to seriously contend for a national championship which many didn’t think was possible.
“I think we’ve sat in the locker room the last two months after games and have talked about ‘no one gives us a chance early in the year’, and the guys in the room they trust each other, they have faith in each other, they love each other, they play hard for one another,” Breschi said. “We’re gonna’ keep doing what we do.”