Men's Lacrosse

Syracuse men’s lacrosse roundtable: Margin of victory, senior attack Jordan Evans, Towson faceoff matchup

Cody Hendrix | Staff Photographer

Syracuse senior faceoff specialist Ben Williams has had an up-and-down season. Against Yale, he went a career-worst 1-for-11.

UPDATED: May 19, 2017 at 1:35 p.m.

As Syracuse nears its first Final Four since 2013, beat writers Charlie DiSturco, Sam Fortier and Matthew Gutierrez answer three pressing questions surrounding the Orange. No. 2 SU (13-2, 4-0 Atlantic Coast) has lost only once since Feb. 25, most recently beating Yale Sunday in the Carrier Dome to earn a date with No. 11 Towson (11-4, 4-1 Colonial Athletic) on Sunday at noon at Delaware Stadium in Newark, Delaware. The winner advances to the Final Four in Foxborough, Massachusetts for Memorial Day weekend.

Syracuse’s narrow margin of victory continued in its matchup against Yale, after an 11-10 win. Should SU be concerned about this as it progresses in the playoffs?

Charlie DiSturco: Syracuse should not be concerned about its margin of victory — a win is a win. The team has done it time and time again, as shown by its nation-best 9-2 record in one-goal games. The team knows how to play in situations, whether it be grasping to a small lead or having to comeback in the fourth quarter. I mean, they beat Yale by winning just four faceoffs! Somehow, someway Syracuse has succeeded in one-goal games. There’s no worry here.

Sam Fortier: If you ask Guti, who just wrote a column about this very topic, he’ll say no. And I tend to agree with him. To say SU should worry after winning a game only by one goal would be to invalidate its entire season. In its nine one-goal wins this season, Syracuse has shown it can withstand enormous deficits in faceoffs, ground balls, goals and pretty much anything else to pull off a comeback. Plus, the Orange already had its sobering reality game when it couldn’t quite hold on after coming back from down nine in the ACC tournament to North Carolina. Slim margins are Syracuse.

Matthew Gutierrez: Not at all. Syracuse has proved all season it can win in any way. Some players have joked that they almost enjoy going down early, so they can regroup and stage a comeback. Sunday was just the latest example — Syracuse went 4-for-22 at the faceoff X and still won. Are you kidding? That illustrates how resilient this team is and how far from one-dimensionality SU stands. There’s no time to panic with this team.

After Nick Mariano and Sergio Salcido, which other offensive player will lead SU in the playoffs?

C.D.: The leader of the offense is Jordan Evans, even more so than All-Americans Sergio Salcido and Nick Mariano. Evans finally realized he’s not the top scorer, but instead uses his lacrosse IQ to run the offense and help position more inexperienced players. He accepted his new role and has thrived these past few games. He battles for ground balls, runs, and helps stop opponents’ clears and has such an overall understanding of the game that the balanced SU offense feeds off of. Yeah, he’s not the biggest threat to score. But he’s the leader and quarterback of this offense.

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Courtesy of SU Athletics

S.F.: No doubt: Evans. Everyone knows about his stature with No. 22 and his past No. 1 recruiting ranking, but the biggest thing he brings to SU — aside from his occasional offensive potency, IQ and quarterbacking — is experience. He’s closely observed the disappointing demise for each of the past three seasons and fully understands the stakes of Syracuse’s playoff run this season. As teams creatively counter SU’s six legitimate scoring threats on the field at once — Towson has the nation’s third-best scoring defense (7.47 goals allowed per game) — there’s only one player teammates have described as a coach on the field. Salcido and Mariano may be more potent threats, but Evans will be the conductor.

M.G.: Without question, this is Evans. He has over the last four games led Syracuse in goals and assists. SU head coach John Desko said he’s playing his best lacrosse right now, and much of that won’t even show up in the stat sheet. Evans picks up ground balls, sets up the offense from the X and tells players where to position themselves. Plus, he’s shown he’s capable of scoring while limiting his turnovers. You can’t ask for much more from a guy who quarterbacks a deep offense such as Syracuse’s.

Towson’s faceoff specialist Alex Woodall ranks inside the Top 10 nationally in winning percentage. The Orange pulled away with a win after getting decimated at the faceoff X against Yale. Will SU be able to remain competitive again if it doesn’t win at the faceoff X, and will Ben Williams be able to return to form? 

C.D.: If Williams struggles at the faceoff X, Syracuse still can remain competitive. It showed last week against Yale, a team with a top 10 faceoff success rate in the nation. But SU escaped and were lucky to do so. The game will remain close if Williams struggles, but another poor performance and I can’t see Syracuse coming out on top. That’s where bringing in Danny Varello comes into play. He has been consistent (other than the Yale game) and even Desko raves about his quick hands. Williams will likely struggle again, much like he has all season, before Varello comes in and is tasked with leading a Syracuse comeback once again.

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Jordan Phelps | Staff Photographer

S.F.: No and likely no. The Orange has somehow skirted challenging opposition — Yale won the Ivy League — despite not maintaining an advantage in faceoffs, but logically less possession time decreases chances of winning. If Williams cannot win, if SU is not competitive at the faceoff X against Towson, Williams’ career and the team’s season will end. Williams has not shown anything to indicate that he will return to the dominant player he once was. His early-season struggles were explained with injury, yet Desko has insisted for the past month that he’s fully healthy. Still, Williams has won 41 of his past 86 faceoffs and just 1-of-11 against the Bulldogs. That nearly cost Syracuse the game. It’s possible Williams returns to form — toughness is his best attribute — but if he doesn’t, the Orange’s best chances rests on someone other than one of the program’s best-ever faceoff men.

M.G.: At this point, there are few reasons to be confident in Williams. Even if he starts well, will he sustain success over a whole game? Doubtful. There’s no question Desko and SU assistant coach Kevin Donahue have discussed, more and more, the idea of brining in freshman Danny Varello. While he won only 3-of-10 against Yale, Varello has been much more consistent this year. Expect him to see time Sunday in a heightened role and help SU try to break even at the faceoff X.

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