UNC ends Notre Dame’s ACC championship hopes
Benjamin Padanilam | Monday, May 1, 2017
The weekend had all the makings of a great story.
Notre Dame had just upset rival and perennial thorn-in-its-side Duke to fight its way into the ACC championship. But the Irish were unable to write their storybook ending, as they stumbled out of the gate early against North Carolina and were unable to claw their way back in a 14-10 loss in the ACC championship game.
To even get to the championship, the seventh-ranked Irish (8-4, 2-2 ACC) had to get by third-ranked Duke (11-4, 3-1) on Friday night. Each of the last two seasons, it was the Blue Devils who had ended Notre Dame’s ACC tournament runs in the semifinals. But this season, the Irish rewrote the script, shutting out the Blue Devils in the first half on their way to a tight 7-6 win in Duke’s Koskinen Stadium.
“That was a big focus for us all week, and they came out and played really well in the first half and, really, the whole game,” Irish sophomore midfielder Brendan Gleason said of the Irish defense against Duke. “[Senior goalie Shane Doss] was seeing the ball really well, and we were responding and recovering really well as a team and, as a result, kind of playing together and knowing when it was a good time to go and when we didn’t have to go. So I think that just really helped us stay in that game because we didn’t have a ton of offense in the first half.”
Offensively, the Irish also saw a big performance from freshman midfielder Bryan Costabile, who scored three of the first four Irish goals to help put his team ahead 4-0 early on, an advantage that would prove just enough to advance Notre Dame to the tournament’s championship Sunday.
“That was awesome,” Gleason said of Costabile’s performance against Duke. “We know he’s had it all year, and he really brought it on Friday night, especially with [senior midfielder and captain Sergio Perkovic] hurting a little bit. We needed other guys to step up, so he was one of them for sure.”
But Sunday’s story saw the script flipped, as it was the 20th-ranked Tar Heels (8-7, 1-3) who jumped out to the early 4-0 lead in the first part of the first quarter. North Carolina needed a win to stay above .500 and keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive, and it came out with the intensity to do just that, Gleason said.
“They were getting the shots they wanted,” Gleason said of North Carolina’s offense early. “They were playing for their lives — they had to win that game to still have a shot at playing in the NCAA tournament — so they came out pretty hot, and we didn’t quite match that intensity emotionally.”
The Irish, on the other hand, struggled to get anything going offensively, scoring just three goals in the entire first half while committing seven turnovers — many of which came at the expense of shots which could have helped close the early deficit.
“Turnovers hurt us,” Gleason said. “It might have just been a little bit of jitters — playing the ACC championship, we were all pretty fired up, so we just had to kind of relax and get into the flow of the game a bit.”
Another blow for the Irish came in the form of Perkovic’s injury — the captain and All-ACC selection was limited, as he was less aggressive in choosing when to dodge and visibly in pain on several occasions.
“It was tough because he’s kind of our offensive catalyst and leader for the whole year,” Gleason said of Perkovic’s injury. “Not that we don’t have other guys, but he’s … always someone that the other team has to worry about. So not having him at full strength definitely hurt us, but we kind of just had to work together and have other guys step up and do what we had to do to get it done.”
And although the Irish fought back in the third quarter to make it a two-goal game at 8-6, the Tar Heels were able to close it out in the fourth by winning 10 faceoffs to Notre Dame’s one and picking up 15 ground balls to Notre Dame’s eight to recapture the momentum and ride it to a 14-10 victory over the Irish.
“Going into the end of the third quarter, we were feeling pretty good,” Gleason said. “But they came out and won the next handful of faceoffs and they just controlled the ball. They were up two goals, so they kind of throttled our momentum there, and it was kind of tough for us to get back on top the rest of the game.”
With the book closed on the ACC tournament, the Irish will wait to see how and where their next chapter begins with the NCAA tournament selection show set for Sunday.