So ends the Notre Dame men's lacrosse season, with a game the Irish will not look upon fondly either for effort or for performance. The final score was 9-13, but it the score makes the game seem much closer than it actually was. It was disheartening to see this all end on a uncharacteristically middling performance from much of the team.
The highlights from UNC's perspective:
The first quarter began with the teams exchanging goals with Mikey Wynne and Matt Kavanagh scoring for the Irish. The game was tied with a few seconds left in the quarter until a quick score off a faceoff to put the Tar Heels up 3-2 to finish the first period.
It all began to fall apart in the second with North Carolina scoring 3 more unanswered goals and the Irish not being able to do anything on offense. Things quickly got worse to start the second half, with North Carolina running the score to 2-10 before Wynne finally got the Irish back on the scoreboard with 1:52 left in the third. The score grew to 4-13, with the Irish putting together a small run late in the 4th to yield a less dismal 9-13 final score.
The final stats include four goals for Wynne, two for Kavanagh in his Notre Dame finale, as well as goals for Garnsey, Collins, and Schantz. P.J. Finley had a very rough day at the office going 6-22 at faceoff X alongside teammate John Travisano's 2-3. Shane Doss made 10 saves. The most glaring statistic was Sergio Perkovic's 0-for-14 shooting and a stretch where the team as a whole went 2-for-23.
Frankly, the last 46 minutes of the game largely resembled the disastrous final seven minutes of the regular season game in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heel offense had the defensive midfield running confused. They are a very quick team that did a good job of creating confusion above the crease. The Irish had no answers, and we are curious if there are injury issues as backup Defensemen Jack Sheridan and Pat Healy getting a lot of time over senior Edwin Glazener. Garrett Epple clearly did not have his best day seemingly always a step behind and making several unwise aggressive moves he later regretted. At this point we can only conclude that North Carolina is the one team in the country that can come up with consistent answers to the vaunted Irish defense. Perhaps it is their speed, maybe something else, but they are clearly doing something Coach Byrne and co. have difficulty solving. They deserve a lot of credit for this.
As the risk of appearing to be Matt Landis apologists, the Tewaaraton finalist played well and with energy as a captain should. To our count, only two of the goals involved him, and on one he got knocked down by teammate Austin Gaiss. Generally speaking, North Carolina kept the play away from Landis and focused instead on the less experienced end of the defense. It was very sad to see Landis taken out of the game with an apparent concussion. With seven minutes to play, Landis got a ground ball off the faceoff and tried to take it to the cooker. He got leveled after the shot and had to be helped off the field. We haven't located a proper injury report, but will update on his condition as soon as possible.
We're not sure what to make of the offense. The attack combo of Wynne/Kavanagh/Garnsey was having a difficult go of it but was generating decent shots and scored 7 goals. The first midfield was simply not good, with Perkovic missing on all 14 shots, Brosco only taking one shot, and Brendan Collins committing 4 turnovers. The second and third midfield lines looked more energetic and threatening. What was particularly hard to watch was that few of the Perkovic shots were particularly dangerous, and many of them simply wild efforts off the cage. The UNC played him well, but it was clear Sergio Just didn't have it. He finally leaned into a good one at the beginning of the 3rd that was saved by UNC's Balkam, and perhaps this either motivated UNC or disheartened ND. It certainly took the wind out of our sails (and at the risk of sounding petty, reviewing the video Balkam completely guessed at the low shot before it was released and got lucky).
The offense needed to do something to generate pressure but was not able to do so. For much of the game UNC seemed to have an interesting strategy of having poles on Garnsey, Kavanagh, Perkovic and Brosco while leaving Wynne with the short stick. It took a minute for this to make sense to us, especially since Wynne was scoring, but tying up that combo took out most of the Irish scoring and made it difficult to get Wynne the ball, a great plan executed well. Wynne is among the best closers in the game but is entirely reliant on the rest of the team to get him the ball near the crease.
Having said this, it was disappointing to see the six-on-six offense regress to its mid-season staleness. The fluidity of the Army and Air Force games was simply not there. We hated to see Kavanagh go out like this. Much like Landis, he gave a captain's effort, but the UNC defense was well schooled on his tendencies and was committed to stymieing anything to his left. Likewise, they did a great job of keeping Garnsey from his preferred low lefty sling shot.
Shane Doss wasn't perfect, but 10 saves is a reasonable day at the office. It would be easy to assign blame to him, but viewing the game a second time made evident that he was put into some very difficult situations. The twitter commentary suggested inserting Conor Kelly, but there was no sense ruining his day, too. The UNC attack was getting some easy shots.
At this point we may have to acknowledge Stephen Kelly simply owns P.J. Finley. Travisano had mildly better success but was not given more of an opportunity. We did not see the sense of putting Landis and Epple at the wing when Kelly was so easily getting the ball back to himself. All this did was put a close defender well out of position.
The ride was one area that performed well, and it was great to see such commitment to an aggressive ride by the whole team. They kept UNC to a 68% clear rate, which is absolutely phenomenal, but credit needs to be given to UNC for quickly falling back to slow up any transition opportunities.
We'll get a season wrap-up posted later in the week which will include a tribute to the seniors.
It was a disappointing end to the season, but we here at ND-Atl were glad to have witnessed what was otherwise a very good season for which this team should be quite proud. For a midwest team to be such a permanent fixture in the NCAA tournament is indeed a credit to Coach Corrigan and his team.