Conor Kelly came up with a stone cold save on a Kevin Rice shot with two seconds remaining in regulation to preserve a 15-14 win for Notre Dame. The victory propelled the Irish into the NCAA Tournament on the strength of the ACC's automatic bid to The Big Barbecue, erasing any doubts about Notre Dame's participation in this year's May adventure. Securing the ACC Tournament championship, though, was an exercise in "What the hell is going on?!"
The Irish and Orange went into the half deadlocked at seven, the scoreboard in a tangled knot thanks to a Notre Dame push over the final minute of the half that erased a two-goal deficit. Matt Kavanagh and Sergio Perkovic provided the vital tallies for Irish before the intermission, creating momentum that would carry into a monster third quarter for the Irish. In the penultimate period, Notre Dame absolutely abused Syracuse, building a five-advantage on the back of Kavanagh's inspired play:
- A Kavanagh goal that saw him beat Brandon Mullins one-on-one gave the Irish a 9-8 lead;
- Kavanagh immediately responded with another unassisted goal, using a pick from the restraining area on goal line extended to drive the crease and finish;
- Kavanagh and Marlatt then played a nifty give-and-go that resulted in Marlatt pushing the ball past Bobby Wardwell after attacking the crease, giving the Irish an 11-8 lead;
- Kavanagh took a break from crushing Syracuse's soul and allowed Conor Doyle to unleash a stinger in an extra-man opportunity that grew Notre Dame's lead to four; and
- Following a magnificent defensive possession that featured Kelly turning away everything in his radar field, Nick Ossello rolled Syracuse's defense and flipped the ball back to Marlatt, allowing Marlatt a free look at the goal that he converted with a high-to-high blast.
The stretch was part of a six-goal run for Notre Dame. Syracuse's Randy Staats -- who would finish with five goals on the day -- stopped the bleeding for the Orange with 42.9 seconds remaining in the quarter, but Kavanagh -- in his signature game as a collegian -- answered with a goal off of a speed dodge with 12 ticks left on the clock in the period. It was a 7-2 quarter in favor of the Irish, an assault that broke open a game seemingly destined for a tight finish after 30 minutes of play. That destiny -- although seemingly lost -- would focus in the fourth quarter.
The final period was all about Syracuse slowly eroding the 9-14 deficit it faced. Staats got on the board early in the period on a man-up goal, drawing the Orange within four. A Jack Near goal that almost mirrored the run he went on to beat Maryland in the ACC Tournament semifinals increased Notre Dame's lead to five. Then the Orange started to press:
- A Billy Ward goal with 8:21 left in regulation brought Syracuse within 11-15.
- A ruthless Dominic Lamolinara -- the netminder relieved a struggling Bobby Wardwell at the start of the fourth quarter -- stuff of Conor Doyle allowed the Orange to move the ball the other way, eventually getting a bucket from Derek Maltz on a Kevin Rice helper. It was a two-goal swing in 68 seconds that gave Syracuse more than seven minutes to try and close a three-goal deficit.
- Staats then drew Syracuse within two with just a shade under five minutes to play and Scott Loy -- just 2:57 later -- brought the Orange within one.
There was just over 2:00 remaining in regulation. Notre Dame won the ensuing faceoff after the Loy tally and proceeded to bleed time off of the clock. The ball ended up in Westy Hopkins' stick with 1:00 remaining in the game, alone on the crease against Lamolinara, and after a couple of dekes pounded the ball off of Lamolinara's face -- literally -- as Lamolinara was falling to the ground. The Orange corralled the groundball and raced into the offensive end, taking a timeout with 54 seconds left in the game.
There would be a hero, but it wouldn't come from Syracuse's side: After Billy Ward hit a pipe with 41 seconds on the clock, the ball eventually came to Kevin Rice who -- curling on a shortie -- had his stuff pushed in by Kelly on one of the most dramatic late-game stops of the 2014 season.
TRUNCATED ADVANCED BOX SCORE
|Raw Offensive Efficiency||57.69||37.84|
|Raw Offensive Shooting Rate||44.12%||32.56%|
|Shots per Offensive Opportunity||1.31||1.16|
|Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities||34.62||32.43|
|Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Possessions||38.10||36.51|
|Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities||18.92||23.08|
|Team Save Percentage||33.33%||28.57%|