UAlbany Hangs on to Beat UNC, Advance in NCAAs
ALBANY, N.Y.–They screamed the famous “Albanyyyyyyyyyy” chant, laughing with their friends and family, dancing in the rain, basking in the moment.
But then, the fans stopped.
After its fireworks-filled first half, the No. 8 University at Albany allowed eight unanswered goals in the second half to No. 9 North Carolina Saturday night at Casey Stadium in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Despite the unprecedented and unexpected run, UAlbany clung on to win 15-12 after its own net-scorching run in the first half that saw the Great Danes pour in 14 goals.
“That’s as good as it gets right there,” UAlbany head coach Scott Marr said after the game. “We knew they were gonna fight. We knew they weren’t gonna roll over.”
In front of the NCAA Tournament’s first-round record-breaking crowd of 6,472 rain-drenched fans, the top offense in the nation put on a scoring display in the first half that no one expected. After UNC’s Chris Cloutier scored the first goal of the game, UAlbany went on to score six unanswered in the first quarter. The Tar Heels’ William McBride stopped the bleeding with 00:10 in the first quarter, only to see Connor Fields score seven seconds later. The Fields goal started another run of six unanswered for UAlbany. By the end of the first half, the Great Danes led the defending national champions 14-3. Bennett Drake led the way with five goals, which tied his career-high.
“Nothing went wrong,” Marr said. “That was the best half I’ve ever been a part of, as a coach or player.”
But in the second half, the entire atmosphere changed. Led by the bulldozing and sheer determination of Cloutier, who finished with two SportsCenter Top 10-worthy goals Saturday night, the Tar Heels engineered a magical run of its own. TD Ierlan, the face-off specialist for UAlbany, continued to win the face-offs. Except his team couldn’t hang on to the ball. Affected by the sloppy playing conditions, UAlbany passed the ball carelessly, committing 16 turnovers in the second half alone. UNC took advantage, sucking all the air out of the once-electric stadium. With well over 10 minutes left, the UAlbany lead had dwindled to 14-12.
“We just told ourselves if we were gonna go out, we were gonna go out fighting,” UNC senior Luke Goldstock said.
The run fell short with UAlbany deciding to use more clock. An unassisted Adam Osika goal with 5:49 left gave the Danes some breathing room. His goal marked the end of a scoring drought that lasted nearly 25 minutes.
Despite the second half collapse, UAlbany managed to escape with a win to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Great Danes will face the winner of Sunday’s matchup between No. 1 Maryland and No. 16 Bryant. UAlbany will play either team next Sunday afternoon at the University of Delaware.
Unfortunately for the Danes, the fans won’t bring the Saturday night’s roaring atmosphere to Delaware next week.
“It was just awesome to have so many fans there supporting us. It’s incredible,” UAlbany goalkeeper JD Colarusso said.
But if he’s lucky, Marr’s team that showed up in the first half will play at Delaware next week. The one that played with reckless abandon. The one that completely floored the defending national champions. The one that looked like the best team in the country for a half.
This team is a far cry from 2000, when Marr took over. It’s a far cry from his 2007 squad, the last UAlbany team to host an NCAA Tournament game. That team played in front of a crowd sitting on portable bleachers. On Saturday, his team showcased its abilities to thousands of screaming fans, young and old, and the entire lacrosse community.
Marr has never had a team advance to the Final Four. One more win, and he will finally get that chance.