Game Preview: Marquette vs. UNC

2016 NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championship - First Round
No. 6 Marquette (11-4, 4-1 BIG EAST) vs. North Carolina (8-6, 3-1 ACC)
Date Saturday, May 14 | 1:30 p.m. CT
Location Valley Fields | Milwaukee, Wis.
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May 12, 2016

MILWAUKEE – For the first time in program history, No. 11 Marquette will host an NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship First Round game at Valley Fields, when the sixth-seeded Golden Eagles welcome North Carolina on Saturday, May 14 at 1:30 p.m. Central time.

The game will be played on the natural grass field in the Menominee Valley and be broadcast live on ESPNU and through the WatchESPN application with John Brickley (play-by-play) and Stephen McElduff on the call.

Tickets for the game sold out in roughly 20 minutes at the Marquette Ticket Office on Wednesday morning and capacity will likely be just under 2,000 with additional bleachers being brought onto the site. 

The Golden Eagles (11-4) earned the automatic NCAA bid out of the BIG EAST Conference after capturing their first league tournament championship on Saturday by defeating No. 1 Denver, 10-9, and snapping the Pioneers’ NCAA-best 22-game home winning streak. BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year Liam Byrnes lead the charge for Marquette in Denver and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player after leading MU to victories over then-No. 16 Villanova in the semifinals and the Pios in the title matchup.

Marquette concluded a week-long stay in the Mile High City by rallying from a five-goal deficit for the victory over Denver and was led by sophomore Tanner Thomson’s four goals in the win. Byrnes also scored his first goal of the season and sophomore faceoff specialist Zachary Melillo won over 50 percent of his draws against All-American Trevor Baptiste.

Junior attackman Ryan McNamara leads the Golden Eagles on the year with 38 goals and 54 points, both of which are Marquette single-season records, while senior Conor Gately has produced 19 goals and 14 assists.

North Carolina (8-6) is making its 31st appearance all-time in the NCAA tournament, the first of which came in 1977, the same year that the Marquette men’s basketball team, led by Al McGuire, defeated the Tar Heels for their only NCAA Championship.

Senior Steve Pontrello has 39 goals and 14 assists through 14 games this season for UNC, which fell to Syracuse in the ACC tournament semifinals as the No. 1 seed. The Tar Heels are 3-1 against common opponents in 2016 with victories over Notre Dame, Duke and Richmond and a 13-12 overtime loss to reigning NCAA Champion Denver on March 5 in Chapel Hill.

North Carolina, a four-time NCAA Champion, is 29-26 all-time in tournament action and is unseeded for just the fourth time in school history. It is also only the third time UNC will play its NCAA First Round game on the road since the field expanded in 1995.

The winner of Saturday’s matchup will head to Columbus, Ohio to take on with winner of third-seeded Notre Dame and Air Force on Sunday, May 22. That game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.

MARQUETTE MAKING FIRST NCAA APPEARANCE

  • By virtue of the Golden Eagles’ 10-9 victory over No. 1 Denver in the BIG EAST Men’s Lacrosse Championship, MU claimed the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship and is making its first appearance in the national tournament. Marquette’s victory and NCAA berth comes in just its fourth season of competition and its third as a BIG EAST member after playing the 2013 campaign as an independent. MU head coach Joe Amplo competed in 11 NCAA Championships during his time at Hofstra, making eight appearances as a coach and three as a student-athlete. Amplo’s last trip to the NCAA postseason came in 2011 and resulted in a 12-5 loss to third seeded Johns Hopkins.

MARQUETTE CROWNED BIG EAST CHAMPION

  • Saturday’s victory over Denver featured a number of important milestones and firsts. Consider the following:

  • • First win over a No. 1 team
    • First victory over Denver in five tries
    • First BIG EAST Championship
    • First NCAA Championship berth
    • First BIG EAST title game appearance
    • Win snapped Denver’s NCAA-high 22 game home winning streak
    • DU’s first loss to a BIG EAST team since joining the league in 2014 (21-0)
    • School-record 11th victory
    Liam Byrnes became the first MU player with 200 career ground balls and 100 caused turnovers
    Zachary Melillo won 52 percent at the faceoff X against All-American Trevor Baptiste. It marked only the second time in Baptiste’s career that he did not win more draws over his opposition.

THOMSON EMERGES AS A MAJOR THREAT IN THE MIDFIELD

  • Sophomore midfielder Tanner Thomson emerged in a big way during Marquette’s stay in Denver, scoring a total of nine goals with 11 points through MU’s three-game trip, including a game-high goals in the BIG EAST title game. Thomson began the trip with a hat trick in MU’s regular season finale against Denver and scored twice in the BIG EAST semifinal against Villanova. The All-BIG EAST Championship Team selection scored his first career goals against Robert Morris on March 12 in his first start and has scored in seven of the last eight contests for MU. Thomson’s first start coincided with the season-ending injury to All-BIG EAST midfielder Kyle Whitlow.

PAIR REACHES STATISTICAL MILESTONES

  • Graduate defenseman Liam Byrnes and junior attackman Ryan McNamara have each turned in All-America-caliber campaigns and have both surpassed significant statistical milestones.
  • McNamara became the second MU player to reach 100 career points at No. 1 Denver in the regular season finale and passed Tyler Melnyk’s single season goal scoring school-record of 36 with four against Villanova in the BIG EAST semis. He is now the MU single-season leader in both goals (38) and points (54) as a unanimous All-BIG EAST First Team selection.

Ryan McNamara (47 games): 78 goals, 35 assists, 113 points

  • Byrnes, the BIG EAST Conference Defensive Player of the Year and tournament’s most outstanding player, became the first MU player to reach 200 career ground balls and 100 caused turnovers in his career in the BIG EAST title matchup with Denver. He is currently third in NCAA Division I with 2.13 caused turnovers per game, while leading the nation’s No. 10 scoring defense.

Liam Byrnes (60 games): 214 ground balls, 101 caused turnovers

BYRNES NAMED BIG EAST DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

  • Graduate student Liam Byrnes was named the BIG EAST Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and was joined by six other Golden Eagles on the league’s all-conference teams. Byrnes and junior attackman Ryan McNamara were selected to the All-BIG EAST First Team, while five players earned second team honors. Byrnes is also the first Marquette player to ever receive a major year-end award in the program’s three-year affiliation with the conference.

  • Senior attackman Conor Gately was named to the All-BIG EAST Second Team for the second year in a row and graduate defenseman B.J. Grill earned second team honors to mark the third all-conference accolade of his career. Three individuals – senior Jacob Richard and sophomores Cole Blazer and Zachary Melillo – all were honored for the first time on the second team.

DEMICHIEI STEPS UP AGAINST ST. JOHN’S AND VILLANOVA

  • Junior midfielder Andy DeMichiei entered the April 9 game at St. John’s with 12 goals in 39 career games, but exited with 19 career tallies after scoring a Marquette program-record seven against the Red Storm. The Pittsburgh native recorded a natural hat trick to begin the third quarter and give MU the lead after the Golden Eagles faced a 6-4 halftime deficit. DeMichiei, who scored his first career goal to topple St. John’s in double overtime as a freshman in 2014, earned his first conference accolade when he was named to the BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll on Monday, April 11. He was also named the Epoch/Lacrosse Magazine National Player of the Week.

  • Wearing the injured Kyle Whitlow’s No. 6 jersey against No. 16 Villanova in the BIG EAST semifinals, DeMichiei recorded his second hat trick of the season to help the Golden Eagles to their first ever win in the BIG EAST tournament. He scored his first goal against the Wildcats in the opening quarter on a lefty tally and added consecutive goals in the third quarter to give MU a 10-5 lead. His last goal stood as the game winner.

WAGNER ASSERTS HIMSELF AGAINST THE WILDCATS

  • Freshman John Wagner has seen sporadic playing time in his rookie campaign as a reserve midfielder, but made the most of his opportunity in the BIG EAST semis with a pair of big goals to end the first and begin the second quarters. After MU saw a 3-0 lead evaporate to a one-goal game, 3-2, in the first quarter, Wagner put the Golden Eagles back up three just under a minute into the second frame. Wagner’s goals are only the third and fourth markers of the season and marked just the second game he has scored in. The St. Davids, Ontario native notched his first two career goals at Richmond in a 7-2 MU victory on Feb. 27.

BLAZER STANDS TALL IN FIRST CAREER START

  • Sophomore goalie Cole Blazer made quite the impression in his season debut and first career start as the Golden Eagles shut down a high-scoring Villanova offense that entered the game second in the nation in scoring. The Libertyville, Illinois native made 13 sometimes spectacular saves against the Wildcats and held the VU offense to a season-low three goals, while recording a .813 save percentage. Blazer and the MU defense also limited VU’s Jake Froccaro, who entered the game as the nation’s leading scorer, to a lone assist. For his sterling performance, he was named the BIG EAST Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week on April 4, the USILA’s National Defensive Player of the Week on April 5 and earned the same honor from the NCAA on April 6.

  • Blazer also posted 10 saves in the win over Villanova in the BIG EAST semis, giving him a total of 23 saves against the Wildcats his season. In two games against VU he has allowed 6.00 goals per game to an offense that averaged 14.83 goals in its other 12 contests.

  • The sophomore was an All-BIG EAST Second Team selection and named to the All-BIG EAST Championship Team after limiting Villanova and Denver to nine goals apiece and making nine saves against each.

  • Blazer, a mechanical engineering major, is the closest thing to a local player on the Marquette roster, hailing from Libertyville, Illinois, which sits 55 miles to the south of Milwaukee down I-94 just across the Wisconsin-Illinois border. No player for the Golden Eagles in program history has ever grown up closer to the Milwaukee campus.

GOLDEN EAGLES UNABLE TO SPRING UPSET AT NO. 1 NOTRE DAME

  • Marquette scored the game’s first goal at No. 2/1 Notre Dame and came back from a two-goal fourth quarter deficit, but could not outlast the Irish in overtime, falling 8-7 on Matt Kavanagh’s game winner 30 seconds into the extra session. The loss was the first ever for the Golden Eagles in overtime after having entered the game a perfect 4-0 when the game went to extra time. Marquette took a 1-0 lead and after Ryan McNamara tied the game in the fourth quarter, an MU shot to take the lead with 1:47 to play hit the side of the net. The Golden Eagles never had a solid possession again as the Irish controlled the remainder of the fourth quarter and OT.

MARQUETTE’S ROSTER FEATURES NATION’S LARGEST SENIOR CLASS

  • This year’s roster features a 19-player senior class that is the largest in NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse. The group includes five players who arrived on campus during the fall of 2011 and did not play in any games during their first year as the Golden Eagles only practiced. Liam Byrnes and B.J. Grill have already received their bachelor’s degrees in that group, while Kyle Whitlow, Tyler Gilligan and Dan Mojica will graduate in May with MU’s other four-year players. Marquette returns a total of eight starters and 35 letter winners from last year’s 10-win squad.

GRILL IS A 2016 SENIOR CLASS AWARD FINALIST

  • Graduate student B.J. Grill became the first MU men’s lacrosse player to be named a Senior CLASS Award finalist when it was announced that he was one of 10 student-athletes on the ballot for the prestigious award on March 30. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition. Grill is a two-time All-BIG EAST First Team selection­ on defense and a 2016 Inside Lacrosse Preseason Faceoff Yearbook Third Team All-American. The two-time team captain and Major League Lacrosse draft pick graduated in May of 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and is currently pursuing an MBA in Marquette’s Graduate School of Management.

FACEOFF UNIT MUCH IMPROVED IN 2016

  • After winning just 43 percent of their faceoffs during the first three seasons of NCAA Division I competition, the Golden Eagles sit at 56.5 percent through the first 15 games of 2016 and rank 14th nationally. That improvement was highlighted in the March 6 victory over Detroit, in which MU won 95 percent (19-of-20) of the game’s faceoffs, including the first 19 of the game. Sophomore transfer Zachary Melillo was named to the BIG EAST Conference Weekly Honor Roll on March 7 after going 18-for-19 at the X against the Titans and Marquette has won 57.1 percent (22nd nationally) of the draws he has taken in 2016. The Warren, New Jersey native leads the Golden Eagles with 69 ground balls this season and has had significant help on the wings from short sticks Jacob Richard (60 ground balls), Griffin Connor and Noah Joseph, as well as long stick midfielders Tyler Gilligan and Brendon Connolly.

  • Melillo earned BIG EAST Championship All-Tournament recognition after winning 52 percent at the faceoff X against both Villanova’s Luke Palmadesso (14-of-27) and Denver All-American Trevor Baptiste (12-of-23). The sophomore transfer is already MU’s all-time leader in faceoff wins.

DOMINANT DEFENSIVE EFFORTS FUEL VICTORIES OVER RICHMOND AND VILLANOVA

  • The Golden Eagles boast one of the nation’s best defensive units, which has come up big in victories at Richmond (two goals) on Feb. 27 and against then-No. 5/6 Villanova (three goals) on April 2. Through 15 games, Marquette has held four opponents to five-or-fewer goals, and all but three foes to under 10. Richmond’s two goals are the fewest MU has ever allowed in program history and the three goals by the Wildcats are a season low for them. The defense is paced by three 2016 Major League Lacrosse draft picks in Liam Byrnes, Jacob Richard and B.J. Grill and is 10th the nation in scoring defense (8.00 goals per game).

  • Those two victories over UR and VU also highlighted the ability of the MU defense to take the opposing team’s top scorer out of the equation. On Feb. 27 the Golden Eagles were able to shut down Richmond’s leading-scorer Mitch Goldberg and did not concede a point to the junior for the first time in 27 games. Marquette also held Villanova junior Jake Froccaro, who entered April 2’s game leading the nation with 3.88 goals per game, without a goal for the first time in 2016.

MARQUETTE 13-3 IN ONE-GOAL GAMES

  • Despite MU’s first-ever overtime loss at No. 2/1 Notre Dame on Wednesday, April 13, the ability to perform in tense late game circumstances has been a hallmark of the Marquette program under head coach Joe Amplo, evidenced by an all-time record of 13-3 in one-goal games. Marquette picked up its first such victory of 2016 in its BIG EAST opener against Georgetown, 9-8, on March 26 after winning five one-goal games last season. The Golden Eagles captured four one-goal victories in the first five games of 2015 and won eight straight one-goal contests until a loss to the Hoyas on March 21, 2015. In addition to being 13-3 all-time in games decided by one goal, MU is 4-1 all-time in overtime games as a program. The Golden Eagles’ latest one-goal win came over No. 1 Denver, 10-9, to claim their first BIG EAST tournament championship on May 7.

BYRNES CONTINUES TO PRODUCE IN A NUMBER OF WAYS

  • Liam Byrnes, the BIG EAST Preseason Co-Defensive Player of the Year, was the BIG EAST’s unanimous selection at long stick midfielder last season and has returned to his role as a close defenseman in 2016. Byrnes has recorded a ground ball (214 total) in all but four of the 60 career games he has played for Marquette and had a team-high 52 ground balls and 26 caused turnovers in 2015. He is MU’s all-time leader in ground balls and caused turnovers and has seen action in every game Marquette has ever played. The graduate student scored a career-best four goals in 2015 and has 16 career points (7g, 9a). He has tied or bettered MU single-game records in both caused turnovers (5 vs. Detroit) and ground balls (9 vs. Robert Morris) this season and is third in the country with 2.13 caused turnovers per game.

GATELY AGAIN ON TEWAARATON AWARD WATCH LIST

  • Senior attackman Conor Gately was named to the Tewaaraton Award Watch List for the second time in his career in 2016. The watch list of 50 men’s student-athletes will be cut down to 25 on April 28 and five finalists for the award will be announced on May 12. The Tewaaraton Award, presented by Under Armour, is recognized as the preeminent lacrosse award. The award selection committees are made up of premier collegiate coaches and are appointed by The Tewaaraton Foundation.

  • Gately, a Marquette legacy and the only top-100 recruit on the MU roster, holds MU career records with 133 points and 59 assists.

WHITLOW’S PRODUCTION IS MISSED

  • Midfielder Kyle Whitlow suffered a season-ending knee injury on Tuesday, March 8 at practice and will miss the remainder of his redshirt senior campaign. The two-time All-BIG EAST selection started all 49 games of his Marquette career and the Golden Eagles had never taken the field without him in the lineup until March 12 against Robert Morris. The Orillia, Ontario native scored his 60th career goal on April 11, 2015 at Providence to take sole possession of first place in Marquette history, surpassing Tyler Melnyk’s previous record of 59 tallies.

LINEUP CHANGES A RESULT OF WHITLOW’S INJURY

  • With Whitlow out of the lineup for the first time in program history against Robert Morris on March 12, head coach Joe Amplo used the opportunity to shake up his starters. Amplo slid leading scorer Ryan McNamara from the midfield into the attack unit with Conor Gately and Joseph Dunn. Blaine Fleming and Tanner Thomson each made their first starts of the year alongside Andy DeMichiei in the midfield, in place of McNamara and Whitlow. Fleming and Thomson each scored their first goals of the season against the Colonials, including the first two of his career for Thomson. Senior Brett Hornung also saw time on MU’s specialty unit, scoring his first career goal in the second quarter on an EMO.

All HOME GAMES AT VALLEY FIELDS; NEW WORLD CLASS INDOOR FACILITY TO HOUSE MU LACROSSE

  • For the first time in program history, the Golden Eagles will play all five home games in Milwaukee at Valley Fields in the Menomonee River Valley, where they have practiced since their inception in 2011. Marquette is making the move in towards campus from Hart Park in Wauwatosa, where it had played during its first three seasons.

  • A new indoor athletic performance center, which will combine indoor playing fields for Marquette’s lacrosse and soccer programs, an indoor track, and a world-class athletic performance research facility was announced last spring by MU President Dr. Michael R. Lovell. The facility will be located on the 800 block of Michigan Street and is expected to house offices and locker rooms for MU lacrosse. Through a strategic partnership with Aurora Health Care and the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, cutting-edge faculty and student research in sports performance, medicine, nutrition and rehabilitation will enhance the performance of Marquette student-athletes and professional athletes worldwide. It was announced in January that Aurora Health Care will provide $40 million in capital investment to the start of the $120 million project.

 

 

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