UNC's quick start fades in NCAA loss to Denver
North Carolina played to its offensive strength early in its NCAA quarterfinal game against the University of Denver at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.
The Tar Heels scored six goals on seven shots during an eight-minute span in the first quarter and appeared poised to advance to the program's first Final Four since 1993.
"What a train that was trying to stop from coming downhill at us early," Denver coach Bill Tierney said.
That train derailed in the second half.
No. 4 Denver advanced to the NCAA Final Four after rallying for a 12-11 win, scoring the go-ahead goal on Eric Law's rebound with 13 seconds remaining.
UNC (13-4) scored just two goals in the second half after leading 6-0 in the first quarter and 9-4 at halftime.
"Our mantra has been to play fast and play together," UNC senior Marcus Holman said. "But I thought they did a good job of controlling that tempo (after the first quarter)."
UNC, the fifth seed, got first-quarter goals from Davey Emala, Joey Shankey, Ryan Kilpatrick, Mark McNeill, Chad Tutton, and Matt Shannon, which chased Denver goalie Ryan LaPlante who was relieved by Jamie Faus.
"I think, at that point in the game, we were feeling pretty confident," Holman said. "They made a switch, and I guess it was the right move. (Faus) played his butt off and made a lot of timely saves."
UNC's problems went past a goalie change. Denver won 17 of 26 face offs and scored two goals on its five extra-man opportunities, while not allowing the Tar Heels any man-advantage chances.
"They had the ball and great momentum, and I think it wears on you playing as much defense as we did," UNC coach Joe Breschi said. "I thought we had great energy in the first half; we didn't necessarily match their intensity on the faceoffs."
Holman entered the game averaging 4.94 points per game, fifth in the nation, and finished with just one assist.
"We couldn't really get in a rhythm in our 6-on-6 offense in the entire game," Holman said. "And two goals in the second half isn't going to get it done against any team, much less against a fantastic offense like Denver has."
Emala's second goal of the game gave UNC an 11-9 lead with 7:34 remaining. Denver's Colin Scott cut the deficit to 11-10 with 4:44 left, before Eric Adamson scored an unassisted goal with 1:31 left to tie the game.
Denver won the ensuing faceoff, and Law later scored on a rebound from a shot by Adamson for what turned out to be the winning goal with 13 seconds left.
"I thought our defense played as hard as it could," UNC defenseman Kieran McDonald said. "They made one more play than us at the end of the day."
Sankey, Emala and McNeill each scored two goals for the Tar Heels, while Wesley Berg had four goals for Denver and Law added three.
UNC, which played just three seniors, will have to wait another year to earn a Final Four berth.
"We really brought along a young team and have a lot of guys returning, but it doesn't make it any easier now," Breschi said.