(4) DUKE v. (1) NOTRE DAME
Duke stung Notre Dame in the first semifinal of the ACC Tournament at PPL Park. The Blue Devils' 13-8 victory over the Irish marks only the second time this season that Notre Dame has taken loss and may represent Duke's annual pivot from "Formidable Power" to "John Danowski Coaches Lacrosse's Godzilla." The win provides the Devils with the team's first triumph over an RPI top five team in 2015, increasing Duke's overall profile for seeding purposes in the NCAA Tournament.
Both teams started slow at the home of the Philadelphia Union, combining for a scoreless first quarter on a combined 0-19 shooting. The empty period was the first for both teams this season. The Blue Devils, though, were able to put a marker on the board just 19 seconds into the second quarter as Case Matheis broke through for Duke with a sharp bucket that beat Shane Doss. Kyle Keenan doubled the Devs' output with an unassisted goal following Matheis' tally, and then Matheis put his name in scorebook again with a bucket to give Duke a 3-0 lead. Notre Dame finally answered the Blue Devils' call with a goal from Nick Ossello to break the Irish's 21:02 scoring drought, but that hammer from Ossello would be the closest that Notre Dame would stand next to Duke for the rest of the game.
Playing with urgency and a defensive presence that had been missing from the team for much of the season against elite competition, the Devils rattled off seven of the game's next eight goals to earn a 10-2 lead at the end of 45 minutes. The Irish looked like an off-brand version of the team that entered their date with Duke with a plus-50 scoring margin against one of the most difficult schedules in Division I lacrosse, struggling against a surging Duke team that it had handled fairly efficiently in Durham just a few weeks ago. Notre Dame, however, did not bow completely to the reigning national champion, showing ambitiousness midway through the fourth quarter. The push from the Irish, however, came far too late in the game to seriously change the volition of the result: Despite popping a six-goal run in the final period, Notre Dame could draw no tighter to Duke than four.
Seven players scored for Duke in the win with Case Matheis leading all scorers with four tallies on seven shots. Matt Kavanagh was held to a goal and an assist on nine shots for Notre Dame while Sergio Perkovic and Nick Ossello each had two scores for the Irish. Notre Dame will travel to Army next weekend to face the Black Knights while Duke will play for its eighth ACC Tournament championship on Sunday.
(3) SYRACUSE v. (2) NORTH CAROLINA
An offside call -- a call that North Carolina head coach Joe Breschi confirmed as correct in the postgame press conference -- sealed a 9-8 win for Syracuse in the second semifinal of the ACC Tournament. Kevin Rice curled to his right from X -- the officials had just put a shot clock warning on the Orange -- and beat Kieran Burke over his left shoulder to can the game-winning goal with 1:48 remaining in regulation. The tally broke a 23:03 scoring drought for Syracuse and gave Rice his fourth and final point of the night. The Orange improved to 11-2 on the season while North Carolina moves to 12-4 in their 2015 campaign.
The Tar Heels had a shot to tie the game late in regulation. Syracuse won the faceoff proceeding from Rice's decisive shot on a violation from Carolina, but Ryan Kilpatrick was able to cause a turnover for the Heels on the ensuing Orange possession. As North Carolina was clearing the ball up the field, the Tar Heels were tagged with an offside infraction, the determination initially drawing looks of disbelief from Carolina's sideline. Syracuse gained possession and essentially ran out the clock after the trespass, burning through a shot clock scenario without attempting a look at the net. The result marks the second time in as many games that North Carolina has experienced a tough situation at the tail end of an important opportunity.
The largest lead of the game came after Henry Schoonmaker put Syracuse up 8-5 with 9:51 left in the third period. The teams had been deadlocked three times in the first half, heading into halftime in a 5-5 tie. The Orange were able to create some steam early in the third quarter, tallying the period's first three goals -- including Schoonmaker's bucket -- but Carolina answered with a trio of unanswered goals that eventually brought the team's square at nine following a Chad Tutton goal with 11:12 to play in the final stanza. Tutton had two goals in the mini spurt while Duncan Hutchins started the charge.
Neither team shot the ball all that well in the game -- both Syracuse and North Carolina shot 25 percent -- and much of that was attributable to Burke and Bobby Wardwell playing out of their skulls. Wardwell made 14 saves for the Orange and held a 63.64 save percentage while Burke accounted for 13 stops and a 59.09 save percentage. The impressive play from both keepers deflated the scoring in a game that had the potential to excite the tote board in weird and unusual ways.
North Carolina has closed its regular season and will await its tournament seeding on Selection Sunday. Syracuse has advanced to its second ACC Tournament championship and will seek its first title in the conference since joining the league in 2014.