Entering Sunday’s game with Villanova, the Syracuse Orange had never lost a Big East lacrosse game. The Orange had played 14 Big East games without losing coming in to Sunday’s match up, but they had also never looked this vulnerable. Their only two losses on the season had come at the hands of UVA and Hopkins, #1 and #2, but the Orange had also barely beaten St. Johns, 9-8, and even struggled with Providence a bit, eventually winning 10-6.
If Villanova was going to beat Cuse in the Carrier Dome, and end the Orange’s Big East win streak, Sunday provided a great opportunity to do so.
Nova came out hot and scored the first goal of the game. From the beginning you could tell that Villanova was NOT happy to just be there… they really just wanted to win and were gimmick free. This was an even game in their mind, and they played it that way; not holding back, taking chances, and putting the pressure on the Orange whenever they could.
Villanova did well to vary their attacking sets and initiation sequences. They ran guys off of picks all over the field, sometimes flushing the pick player through to the crease, and sometimes popping him to open space for a time and room shot. When the pick plays resulted in the Villanova ball carrier getting space, the Wildcat shooters did a good job of changing planes and shooting overhand, at least for the most part. Even when Villanova shot sidearm, they did a nice job of using screens or pulling the ball into a far corner.
Syracuse looked like Syracuse still, but I think the difference maker here is that Villanova was ready for them. As I mentioned above, ‘Nova likes the two-man game, and they run it all over the field and in lots of situations. Cuse also loves to get two or more players involved in tight spaces, but the Orange are a little more reliant on star players to make their plays. Nova did a great job of identifying threats and crashing multiple defensive players down to cover weak areas in close when the D looked ready to break.
Because of this swarming bend-but-not-break defense, Cuse was able to cycle the ball around quickly, and often got excellent looks from 10-14 yards. Without their fantastic stick skills, and ability to move the ball so quickly and smoothly, Cuse could have been in a world of trouble. Villanova was great on help D all day and seemed to be asking for Cuse to make the skip pass. Sometimes Cuse connected, sometimes Nova got a turnover. The important thing was that it definitely threw a wrench in the Orange’s offense, and slowed down their usually relentless attacking style.
Villanova’s poles took a number of penalties, but the vast majority of them were actually pretty smart. There was an early and obvious push on JoJo Marasco early on, but other than that, most of the penalties were probably worth taking. Syracuse struggled on man up greatly, and this further speaks to Villanova’s ability to force bad passes across, through, or over the packed in middle area of the field.
Brian Megill was a true standout for Cuse on defense. He played physically, did a good job on cover assignments and knocked down a couple of passes when covering a guy at X. Dominic LaMolinara got the start, and finished the game for Cuse, which was a little weird to see as he and Lerman have been splitting time so far this year. LaMolinara played well, but I definitely don’t think this game cemented him as THE guy.
Villanova’s goalie, Dan Gutierrez, made some big saves in the game, but Cuse did seem able to score when they shot low or put hip high bouncers off the turf. Tommy Palasek played a great game for Cuse and finished with 2 goals and 2 assists, but Tim Desk struggled. Cuse never got great and consistent dodges from up top, and Desko often tried to fill the void. At times, he probably tried to do too much, but it’s hard to blame him at all, as top teams need their big guys to step up in close games. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Desko was close on a lot of attempts, and if he had just two more of them, I’d be singing his praises right now.
That’s actually a really nice metaphor for the whole game. Syracuse was very close to winning this game and keeping their streak of Big East and Carrier Dome Ws going, but Villanova stuck it out in the end. Nova really benefitted from one of their face off guys, Thomas Croonquist, and Will Casertano did a great job of leading the Wildcat offense and creating big goals when needed.
At the end of the game, with Cuse down 1, LaMolinara made a save and fired the ball all the way downfield. Desko was able to corral the ball, but unable to get a shot off as a Villanova defender did a fantastic job of draping himself all over Desko. This sealed the 11-10 win for Nova and ended the game. Tim Desko was clearly frustrated as he went after the ‘Nova defender and had to be restrained by a teammate. But that just shows me how much Desko loves to win, and it makes me think that when Cuse plays Duke, he’s going to show up in a major way. For Cuse to win, he will have to!
Overall, the game featured two very similar teams. I would say that Syracuse is still the more talented of the two squads, but Villanova did a better job of playing real team lacrosse, and were highly unpredictable throughout the game.
If Villanove can continue to play with this high level of intensity and consistency, they could go far. They have a solid amount of senior leadership, and that will help them keep the focus on “the here and now”. If the mindset sticks with THIS year, and guys stay healthy, the Wildcats could keep rolling along nicely.
For Syracuse, I like their defense overall, but do think their shortsticks could do a better job of forcing guys to a side and not playing so straight up. Offesnively, they need to have more threats. Right now the O seems to rely on Marasco, Desko or Palasek creating confusion and then a couple quick passes for a big shot. If players like Lecky and Drew can get involved by creating more confusion up top, the Cuse attack will get the extra step they need to create those outstanding one on one goals, and that will be the difference maker for the rest of the season.