by Neil Morris
“We all hate Duke … We all hate Duke … We all hate Duke ...”
The Terrapins and Tar Heels have won four of the last five ACC Men’s Tournament titles; although Maryland has three of those four championships, UNC won in 2011 and finished runner-up to Maryland in 2010 and 2012. Indeed, Friday’s match was the first time since 2008 both teams were not ranked in the top-5 nationally when going head-to-head, a span of four seasons and six games.
But despite their 1-2-1 record entering Friday’s contest, the Terrapins played like the perennial powerhouse they are against their latter-day rival. Indeed, the teams came out like Tommy Hearns versus Marvin Hagler, hard-hitting prize fingers looking to land an early knockout blow.
“That’s a dangerous team right there,” confirmed UNC Head Coach Carlos Somoano. “They come in with two losses and one win out of four games, you know they’re feeling their back against the wall and they’re coming in with everything tonight. Not that they don’t usually throw their best punch, but they certainly came out swinging.”
And striking first. In the 11th minute, striker Schillo Tshuma gathered a loose ball atop the area and let loose a searing finish that flew past helpless Tar Heel goalkeeper Brendan Moore and rippled the back of the net.
“It was a defensive mistake from them, and we had a counter with one guy in the back,” Tshuma said. “I was trying to get Daniel Metzger on the far post, but I underhit the ball. He went on a 50-50 with the defender, and [the ball] just rolled back to me. I just tried to hit it as hard as I can and put it on frame.”
Three minutes later, UNC responded when full back Jordan McCrary, making a dribble drive into the left side of the box, was tripped in the area and drew a penalty. Raby George stepped to the spot and calmly converted the PK to knot the score at 1-1.
It was the Tar Heels’ turn to stick their nose in front in the 21st minute thanks to a highlight goal from midfielder Omar Holness. Gathering possession midway in Carolina’s backfield, Holness dribbled through three Terrapins before making a beeline for the goal. Ambling over open acreage, the 6-foot freshman maneuvered around his final defender before scuffing a left-footed shot that stayed low and skimmed past goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
“I saw the space and took it,” said Holness, who apparently plans to major in Understatement. “That’s basically one of my strengths, so just see the space and take it. And score.”
The goal was the first real glimpse of the potential that Somoano has been touting about the Kingston, Jamaica newcomer since preseason training.
“He’s got the juice,” Somoano reiterated after Friday’s match. “We get to see him everyday in practice, and we know he’s got that kind of power and explosiveness. He’s just scratching the surface of what he can bring to us offensively.
“His role is to find those spots. It’s taken him a little time to figure that out—how the team moves and what their expectations are. It’s not anything we told him to do differently, he’s just getting better at his position.”
In the 37th minute, however, it was Maryland’s turn to equalize. Again it was Tshuma, this time delivering a seemingly harmless strike that found it way past Carolina’s defenders and crossed up Moore as it bounded by.
“There was a lot of defense in front of me,” Tshuma recalled. “We were down 2-1 and the half was about to end. Luckily, the goalie couldn’t see the ball and it got through the defenders’ legs and went in.”
Although the second half would generate even more shots, teams that combined for four first-half scores wouldn’t find another the rest of the match.
“The way we were defending in the first half, I thought we might give up six [goals],” Somoano said. “But, we cleared that up a little bit. I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t get one in the second half. I think there were a lot of opportunities, but they also bunkered down and tightened up the ship a little, as well.”
Indeed, Moore spent much of the second stanza and overtime making amends for his earlier miscue. In the 59th, his punch out and ensuing save thwarted solid attempts by Maryland. Then, near the end of the second overtime period, Moore made a fingertip save of a Jake Pace blast that appeared bound for nylon.
Although North Carolina (2-0-2, 0-0-2 ACC) is ranked in the Top 5 nationally and remains undefeated on the young season, Somoano sounded a despondent chord after the match, much of it generated by the fact that his team surrendered leads in their last two matches against Notre Dame and now Maryland.
“We’re clearly trying to figure a lot of things out,” Somoano said. “It’s probably the most inconsistent we’ve been in the three years I’ve been coaching. All of sudden we’re looking great, then all of sudden it looks like we’re about to fall apart. I just feel like we’re struggling to find our playing identity.”
Yes, coach, but your team is still undefeated, and three of the four games this season were against nationally-ranked competition.
“Which is testament right now to the leadership of the group because we’ve had some shaky moments, we’ve had some great moments, but the character and strength at the top of this group is very strong.”
The Tar Heels looks to get back to their winning ways this Tuesday, Sept. 17 when they bus down to Buies Creek to face Campbell. After a weekend tilt at Virginia Tech, UNC returns to Fetzer Field on Tuesday, Sept. 24 against William & Mary.