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No. 4 Syracuse Couldn't Hang On in a Narrow Loss to No.1 North Carolina

 Syracuse's Meaghan Tyrrell white (18) battles a UNC defender
Syracuse's Meaghan Tyrrell battles a UNC defender. The attacker notched her 50th goal of the season during her four-goal performance.

A game of inches. That’s how Syracuse women’s lacrosse head coach Kayla Treanor described her team’s narrow 14-12 loss Saturday afternoon. The inches for the Orange came in all phases of the game. The offense had times of struggle. The defense committed a number of fouls, which led to UNC free position opportunities. Finally, the draw control dominance died out down the stretch.

Let’s start with the offensive side of the ball. Senior Meaghan Tyrrell continued her impressive 2022 campaign with four goals and a couple of assists. In addition, sophomore midfielder Natalie Smith had a breakout performance with her first career hat trick. Other than those standout performances, the rest of the Syracuse offense went cold. The Orange were competing with one of the nation’s best lacrosse teams in North Carolina and needed all the offensive firepower to keep up.

There is a valid explanation for this offensive stall. The unit played in its first contest since receiving the news that midfielder Emma Tyrrell would be out for the remainder of the season. The junior was responsible for 30 goals this season and helped gain more possessions with assistance in corralling draw controls with 64 in 2022.

The younger Tyrrell sister isn’t the only player for the Cuse dealing with an injury. The other “Meg”, Megan Carney, has been dealing with a lower-body injury as well. The senior hadn’t played in the last couple of contests against both unranked Temple and number six Loyola. Carney started in this contest and contributed one score off four shots. Then, in the second half, the attacker was sidelined.

Syracuse's Megan Carney (22) fights past defenders to get a shot off.
Syracuse's Megan Carney (22) fights past defenders to get a shot off. The senior scored just one in the first half of the contest against the Tar Heels before sitting out the entire second half.

The “inches” on the offensive side also came in the form of missed opportunities. There were a number of times throughout the game where the Orange couldn’t capitalize on a huge defensive stop. The main example came in the second half, Syracuse was up by a couple of scores and started to go on a bit of a run. It was one of just a few runs the entire game. The Cuse could’ve used to momentum to go up by three, which would’ve been the biggest margin of the game at that point. It may seem like something simple, but with the most fans in attendance in program history in a single game, that may have turned inches into yards for the Orange.

On the defensive end, the aggressive play led to multiple second chances for the Tar Heels. SU gave up six free-position opportunities, whereas UNC netted 50%. To make matters worse for the unit, these seemed to come along just as the possession clock was about to strike zero. That usually meant that the timer would be renewed and/or the Tar Heels turned a wasted possession into a goal-scoring opportunity or a goal.

The other side of this defensive struggle could be attributed to North Carolina’s offensive proficiency, but some of it does fall on the SU unit. UNC had 19 shots on goal and found the back of the cage 14 times. That means 73% of the attempts on frame went between the pipes. Some of that falls on the aforementioned foul trouble, but it also comes down to the goaltending. Kimber Hower finished with five saves and when the UNC transfer came up with the save, it was in big moments. The problem was there were so many different game-changing moments and Hower couldn’t stop them all.

Kimber Hower white (11) positions herself in the cage awaiting a free position opportunity.
UNC transfer and current SU starting goalie (11) positions herself in the cage awaiting a free position opportunity. The redshirt junior record four saves Saturday afternoon.

Finally, the strong start at the draw control circle fizzled out at the wrong time. The Orange went into the halftime break with a 10-6 advantage and it was evident that this was keeping the game close. It was even more apparent when the strength turned into a weakness briefly.

In the third quarter, the Tar Heels went on a game-defining 4-0 run that started with five straight draw control wins. The Orange lost their one point of leverage. The Cuse would regain the draw control lead at the end of the contest 16-13, but it would be too late.

This was the toughest test for Syracuse so far this season and went tit for tat with the nation’s top team. Now, the Orange have to look forward to opportunities later in the season to earn a marquee win. The regular-season finale at Boston College stands out as significant. Until then, SU stays in Central New York with a battle in Ithaca against Cornell Tuesday at 7 pm.