The Big City Classic treated the lacrosse world to three very different games this past Sunday, and the final game, featuring Johns Hopkins and UNC, just might have taken the cake!
St. John’s hung with Notre Dame for most of three quarters, and the Duke – Syracuse game was fun to watch and very competitive, even if it was a little sloppy. And Cuse’s new uniforms? Pretty. The Hop – UNC game was just unreal, and it definitely didn’t pan out the way most people thought it might!
During the Duke – SU game, the rain started to come down a little bit, and by the end, everyone was wet, but not soaked. You could see that the conditions were definitely deteriorating; affecting the sticks and the footing on the field. Hop and UNC played in an absolute downpour, and I was sure that Hop would slow it down, and play a more possession-oriented offense, befitting of their #1 ranking.
However, UNC came out firing, and put up 4 goals in the first quarter. Hopkins had to be more aggressive in response. After 1 quarter, the score was knotted at 4, and it looked like we might see an offensive explosion from both teams.
From a scoring standpoint, the second quarter seemed like a bit of a slow down, but the pace of the game was still quite rapid. Both teams pressed on rides and extended well outside the box on defense. A number of shots were blocked by defensive players, and when the shots did get through, both keepers would up to the task. UNC had two man-up opportunities close together, and while they struggled on the first chance, the second gave them a goal and a 5-4 lead after just a few precise passes.
UNC pushed their lead to 6-4 when Joey Sankey scored a beautiful low to low 5-hole goal from a low angle. Sankey’s ability to catch and shoot, while moving or falling, in traffic, under pressure, and from low angles this year is extremely impressive. Definitely a player worth watching! Marcus Holman made it 7-4 for UNC on a simple speed dodge from the wing.
Where Syracuse and Duke players had been slipping, the UNC players seemed very sure footed, and I have to credit UNC as a team for their work in that department. The UNC players did a great job of chopping their feet, and slowing their dodges just enough to keep their balance, while keeping the Hop defenders on their heels as much as possible. All that talent on UNC really started to shine, and the sheer variety of offensive options made their O a constant threat to shoot.
When UNC pushed the lead to 8-4, they ran a beautiful motion up top, cut a guy to the high crease, and then Thomas Wood made a cut through the low crease and caught a zinger of a pass and dumped it in to the goal. Hopkins had a couple of good chances to score but UNC snuffed them out before the half expired. UNC rode long, tough possessions and good face off work to a 4 goal cushion, and looked more than solid on both ends of the field.
Of course, this comfort didn’t last long as Hop came out and scored the first goal of the second half to cut the lead to 8-5. Hop cut the lead to 8-6 on a really nice individual effort that resulted in a Lee Coppersmith goal, but not before they and UNC had each run long offensive possessions. With just under 6 minutes left in the third, Hop made it 8-7 off a simple pass from the wing and overhand shot, and it was anyone’s game.
The rest of the 3rd quarter saw some good possessions for both teams, a lot of back and forth action and some great ground ball fights. UNC got hit the stall warning at the end of the 3rd, but drew a Hop penalty and started the 4th quarter with the ball and a man advantage. With 20 seconds left in the penalty, UNC fed the ball from up top to Nicky Galasso who cut across the low crease. It was an almost a mirror image of the earlier Thomas Wood goal.
UNC scored early by dodging, but as the game wore on, they definitely scored more goals of of passes. A great cut through the middle during a substitution gave UNC a 10-7 lead. Hop made it 10-8 man up, but Jimmy Bitter went top shelf shortly after to put the lead back to 3 at 11-8 with about 6 minutes left. UNC made it 12-8 with 4:30 left, and the teams traded goals in the remaining time for the final 13-9 score, and UNC upset of Johns Hopkins.
UNC’s offense showed up in a major way, and played beautiful team lacrosse. RJ Keenan was great at the face off square, and the UNC defense was good when they needed to be. UNC possessed the ball extremely well, and they were very patient on offense, generating many good looks, and burying them for the most part.
I still believe Hop is a top 5 team, along with Virginia, Cornell, UMass and maybe Loyola but I’m starting to think that UNC might belong up there too, especially after this great win. If the Tar Heels can keep playing like this, they could eventually reach #1! I love a competitive D1 season.