ALBANY — A smile, then a little laugh as he thought about it.
If head coach Scott Marr had known in advance his UAlbany men’s lacrosse team was only going to score one goal in the second half of Saturday’s NCAA tournament first-round game against defending national champion North Carolina, would he have thought his team won?
“I mean, no,” he said. “One goal’s not a whole lot.”
But UAlbany and its top-ranked offense did only score one goal in Saturday’s second half — and the Great Danes did end the Tar Heels season.
For UAlbany, it took a dominant first half to withstand a disaster of a second.
But, hey, NCAA tournaments are all about survive and advance, right?
Exactly — and the Great Danes did that with their 15-12 win in front of a record-setting crowd at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, which housed a standing-room only crowd of 6,472 fans for the team’s first tournament home game since 2007. That attendance figure set a record for UAlbany men’s lacrosse, plus a national record for an NCAA first-round game since the tournament’s field expanded in 2003. The old NCAA record was 5,479, set when Army played at Syracuse in 2010. UAlbany’s school record was 4,823 for a 2015 game against Yale.
“It was unreal to play with that crowd behind you,” said UAlbany junior attackman Connor Fields, who had one goal and four assists.
All those fans were treated to an amazing first half from the home team, which saw the wizardry of UAlbany freshman faceoff specialist TD Ierlan and the electricity of the Great Danes’ offense combine for a remarkable stretch of lacrosse which ended with UAlbany ahead 14-3 at halftime.
“In the first half, nothing went wrong,” Marr said. “That was the best half of lacrosse I’ve ever seen a team that I’ve coached — or been a part of — play.”
For a stretch of 7:19 of game action in the first quarter, North Carolina never had possession of the ball as the Great Danes turned a 1-0 deficit into a 6-1 advantage. Ierlan won the game’s first 10 faceoffs and 15 of 19 in the first half.
“We just didn’t have the ball,” North Carolina head coach Joe Breschi said of the first half.
But North Carolina (8-8) then answered eighth-seeded UAlbany (15-2) with a fantastic half of its own. The Tar Heels scored 14 seconds into the third quarter to start a 9-0 run that extended deep into the fourth quarter — a run which included two goals from senior attackman Luke Goldstock, a Niskayuna High School graduate.
“Teams go on runs,” Goldstock said. “You know it’s coming. UAlbany probably knew we were gonna make a little run there.”
“They came out hot,” Fields said. “We knew they were gonna give us a punch there.”
It didn’t knock UAlbany out. North Carolina got to within 14-12 with 10:12 to play, but didn’t score the rest of the way. Tension lingered for a while, but one of UAlbany redshirt junior goalie JD Colarusso’s 13 saves started a Great Danes possession that senior midfielder Adam Osika capped with a run-stopping goal with 5:49 to go.
“That crowd jumped out of their seats and it just threw all the energy from the first half right back to our side,” Marr said of the reaction to UAlbany’s first goal in nearly 25 minutes of action.
Junior attackman Chris Cloutier scored five goals and had an assist for North Carolina, while UAlbany senior midfielder Bennett Drake scored five goals. Osika and senior midfielder Kyle McClancy each added three goals for UAlbany. Ierlan finished 23 of 30 on faceoffs.
North Carolina won’s last year’s championship with a 14-13 overtime win against Maryland. The top-seeded Terrapins play their first-round game today against Bryant, with the winner of that game playing UAlbany in next weekend’s quarterfinals.
UAlbany has never advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament, but Marr said the Great Danes would enjoy Saturday’s win for a bit before turning its attention to what’s ahead.
“To date, it’s the greatest accomplishment we’ve had,” Marr said. “I mean, we just beat the defending national champions. They just won the ACC tournament. That’s as good as it gets right there.”
North Carolina 1 2 6 3 — 12
UAlbany 7 7 0 1 — 15
North Carolina scoring: Chris Cloutier 5-1, Luke Goldstock 2-0, Andy Matthews 0-1, Justin Anderson 1-0, Timmy Kelly 1-2, Jack Rowlett 2-0, Brian Cannon 0-1, William McBride 1-0. UAlbany scoring: Justin Reh 0-1, Connor Fields 1-4, Mitch Laffin 1-0, Adam Osika 3-2, Kyle McClancy 3-0, Bennett Drake 5-0, TD Ierlan 0-1, John Glancy 0-1, Sean Eccles 1-0, Eli Lasda 1-0.
Goalies: North Carolina, Brian Balkam, 7 saves; Jack Pezzulla, 1 save. UAlbany, JD Colarusso, 13 saves.