A familiar regular season matchup makes its way back to the postseason for the first time since 2004, as the #8 seeded Syracuse Orange host the Albany Great Danes in the final first round game of the weekend Sunday night at 7:30 p.m.
The two teams have met at least once each season since 2004, and the Orange have won the last three meetings, with all 13 previous meetings occurring inside the Carrier Dome. The two teams met back in February, with the Orange taking a 16-7 win over the Great Danes, who were playing in their first game of the regular season. Since then, both teams have improved from that game.
A Look At The Orange
You can say the Orange season can be separated into thirds. Syracuse went 11-4 in the regular season, which includes winning their second straight ACC Championship earlier in the month in Georgia. In the first third of the season, the Orange went 5-0, which included that Albany win in February. At the time, Cuse was third in the nation and were about to travel to Baltimore to take on archrival Johns Hopkins. Everything looked really good for the Orange, and there was talk that the Cuse could reach Championship Weekend.
Until the Hopkins game, which was a cold, rainy, and at the end, an even snowy overtime loss. The Orange lost a 10-8 fourth quarter lead with 38 seconds left in regulation and eventually lost the game in overtime. FOGO Ben Williams had a crucial faceoff violation to help give the Blue Jays possession to score the game-tying goal. And it happened again the following week against Duke, when the Orange gave up a 14-10 lead to end up falling 16-15 in overtime. After a blowout loss to Notre Dame at home and a win on the road against Hobart, the Orange fell to Cornell in overtime, and their resume looked weak. Evan Molloy became the starting goaltender beginning at the Hobart game, taking over for Warren Hill, and the final five games have shown the nation a different Orange team.
Syracuse defeated North Carolina in the Dome to secure a spot in the ACC Tournament, and blew out Binghamton. In Kennesaw, the Orange defeated UNC again, and got their revenge over Duke in a very eventful ACC Championship game to give them the ACC’s AQ bid. Last week, the Orange dominated Colgate 18-3 on Senior Day.
What To Expect
Ever since Molloy took over in goal, the Orange defense has vastly improved. The defensive unit has been talking a ton more, especially from the redshirt junior from Manhasset. He has a save percentage of .577 and has given up just 6.80 goals per game. The guys in front of him, led by Brandon Mullins, Jay McDermott, and freshman Nick Mellen, have each stepped up their game since the first UNC meeting. Dylan Donahue leads the team in assists (31) and in points (59), while junior UMass transfer Nick Mariano leads the team in goals with 34. But guys like Sergio Salcido, Tim Barber, Jordan Evans, Derek DeJoe, and a handful of other role players, including defensive middie Joe Gillis with six goals in the regular season, have made the Orange a dangerous offense yet again.
Questions Facing The Orange
The biggest one will be how the team will perform. Every year that the Orange have hosted a playoff game, they are always scheduled for Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. That’s because graduation ceremonies are going on throughout the entire weekend, with individual schools having their ceremony Saturday, and the big one on Sunday. The Carrier Dome is one of the venues that hosts graduation, including the big one Sunday in the middle of the day. Whether or not they are graduating, how focused will the players be? Playing on a Sunday night is not the best time to have, but the Orange have not played their best lacrosse during those games (see upsets against Army and Bryant in past years).
At Look At The Great Danes
After the opening game loss to the Orange, the Great Danes and their explosive offense took care of Drexel, Cornell, and UMass, before falling to Maryland 10-7 in a midweek showdown. A nine-game win streak followed, which included wins over Stony Brook, Harvard, and an overtime upset of Yale. But they started to maybe show some signs of wear in their final regular season game against UMBC. Up 10-3 at the half, the Great Danes gave up 11 second-half goals to the Terriers to force overtime, where Kyle McClancy scored the game winner.
A big favorite to win the America East Championship and host a First Round game, the Great Danes were upset by Hartford 11-10 in overtime of the America East Semifinals. The Great Danes fell to the first unseeded spot, where they ended up with another date against the Orange. Albany has one win in program history against Syracuse, winning in double overtime back in 2013.
What To Expect
As you might expect, the Albany defense is much different than the first time the two teams met. The Great Danes are sliding earlier, and are much better overall, led by Stone Sims and James Burdette at defense, and Derrick Eccles as one of their top defensive middies. And let’s not forget goaltender Blaze Riorden, who is one of the 25 Tewaaraton candidates along with teammate Connor Fields.
Speaking of Fields, the sophomore has eased some of the pain that the team suffered with the departure of Lyle Thompson. He has 42 goals and 29 assists for 71 points, leading the Great Danes in the latter two categories. Seth Oakes leads the team in goals with 43 and also has 53 points on the season. Justin Reh is the other starting attacker, but also watch out for Bennett Drake and midfielder John Maloney as well.
They were able to defeat Yale a few weeks ago, but we should also note that top Bulldog defenseman Michael Quinn left that game with an injury in the second quarter. The Great Danes and Orange know each other really well, so it should be more competitive than it was earlier in the season.
Questions Facing The Great Danes
How will the faceoff men of Zach Ornstein and Troy Reh deal with Ben Williams for the second meeting with him this season? Albany went 4-of-24 from the faceoff X last week against Hartford’s Dylan Protesto, who is very similar to how Williams is. If we see similar results from the first meeting, the wingers need to be strong defensively and box out Cuse’s wingers, such as Luke Schwasnick, Scott Firman, Cal Paduda, and Austin Fusco. Plus, the defense will need to play on their heads, especially Riorden. Big Blaze has defeated the Orange before as a freshman back in 2013, and is good friends with DeJoe, a fellow Fairport grad. DeJoe scored a hat trick on Riorden in their first meeting.
Another question is, will Big Blaze score another goal like he did against Cornell last year?
The game will be broadcast on ESPNU, with Mike Corey and Mark Dixon on the call. The winner takes on the winner of Quinnipiac-#1 Maryland next Saturday in Providence, Rhode Island.