Duke, UNC men host NCAA lacrosse openers
Classes and exams are over. It’s all about lacrosse now for North Carolina, which is exactly how senior Marcus Holman likes it.
“He lives (lacrosse); he breaths it,” UNC coach Joe Breschi said. “Every waking moment, he’s excited to have a stick in his hand and make himself better.”
The attackman from Baltimore scored an ACC-best 74 points in the regular season and is the program’s all-time leading scorer with 207 points. Holman was named the ACC Championship MVP as the Tar Heels won their first title in the four-team tournament since 1997, and on Thursday he became the school’s second Tawaaraton Award finalist, joining Jed Prossner (2004).
Now comes Holman’s biggest challenge yet — leading the team to its first NCAA title in 22 years. That quest starts today when No. 5 UNC (12-3) starts its NCAA Tournament against Lehigh (12-4) at Fetzer Field (noon, ESPN2).
Seeking it seventh consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament semifinals, Duke also opens the NCAA Tournament at home. The No. 7 seeded Blue Devils (12-5) play reigning national champion Loyola (Md.) on Sunday (5:15 p.m., ESPNU).
The Tar Heels are the top-ranked team in both the media and coaches polls and are riding a nation’s-best nine-game winning streak. But a lack of marquee wins seemed to hurt UNC when it came to seeding the tournament.
“I’d be lying if I said we weren’t a little shocked,” Holman said. “But that shock quickly turned into anticipation and preparation because we know we’re facing a good opponent and we have to earn respect, because it’s not handed out to you.”
Lehigh has the country’s second-longest winning streak, having won seven in a row. The No. 10 Mountain Hawks are second in scoring defense at 7.44 goals a game and beat UNC 9-8 at Fetzer during the 2012 season.
“I think it’s exciting to be at home, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to get you a win,” Breschi said. “Nor is the seeding. What’s going to get you the win is going out and executing the gameplan.”
Duke will play the 10th NCAA Tournament home game in its history on Sunday, having won eight of the nine at home.
Duke already owns a win over Loyola (Md.) this season when the teams met March 8 at Koskinen Stadium. Loyola was ranked No. 4 in the country at the time, while Duke, having lost four of its first six games of the season, was unranked.
But the Blue Devils slugged out a 9-8 win, which started a nine-game winning streak that didn’t end until an 18-17 ACC Tournament loss at North Carolina on April 26.
When the Blue Devils and Greyhounds hit the field Sunday, two of the past three NCAA Tournament champions will be represented.
“I think there’s an excited nervousness because you are playing the defending national champion from last year,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “They have a lot of guys back from last year’s team. It’s a team we’ve beaten already during the season. It’s very difficult to beat a team twice.”
Duke has shown a solid offense capable of carrying it to another deep NCAA Tournament run. The Blue Devils are No. 3 in the country with a 14.06 goals per game average and have scored at least 15 goals in nine games, including seven of the past eight.
That offense will be tested against defensive-minded Loyola, which has allowed 10 goals only three times this season.
Duke has scored more than 10 goals in 10 consecutive games. The last time the Blue Devils failed to reach double-figures? Its 9-8 win over Loyola.