The game had serious postseason implications for two teams that had each dropped two straight at this early point in the year.
Whichever side lost would have to scratch and claw the rest of the way and hope to make the NCAA Division I lacrosse playoffs.
With a resourceful and resilient performance, the fourth-ranked Orangemen fought off all of Towson's challenges to win, 16-10, yesterday before 1,381 windswept fans at Minnegan Stadium.
There was a lot of consternation for Syracuse (3-2) entering the game. Longtime coach Roy Simmons was just back from a bout with double pneumonia. The team was on the road and playing on a natural surface in a far different atmosphere from the Carrier Dome.
And the Tigers figured to be just as hungry for victory as the Orangemen were.
"We've never been in a position like this, having to win this early," said Syracuse attackman Jim Morrissey. "A lot of things were in our minds.
"These guys were also in a must-win situation, on their field and on grass. And last year we had robbed them of one [a 17-16 overtime victory for the Orange]. It's great to come out of this the way we did."
Towson (1-3) had a 2-1 lead on goals by freshman Matt Clune and sophomore Dudley Dixon, the latter its only extra-man score the game.
But, as they did all day, the Orangemen responded quickly to a Tigers threat, scoring 10 seconds after the second goal to tie at 2 and never trailing again.
In the third period, Towson rallied to within three four times (9-6, 10-7, 11-8 and 12-9), but three goals by Orange freshman Casey Powell and another from out front by defenseman Ric Beardsley provided the answers Syracuse needed to rebuff the Tigers' best threats.
"We threw our hearts out there today," said Simmons. "We were far more patient than in past games and the defense got the job done.
"We lost to No. 1 and No. 2 [Virginia and Johns Hopkins], so to lose again to a team not as highly regarded would have been disastrous."
Syracuse controlled the play in most of the unsettled situations and its crisp passing, close-in attack and composure did the rest at the offensive end.
"That's the way we play," said Simmons. "We like to get the ball on the ground and then take over with our close attack."
Towson failed on 40 percent of its clears (12 of 30) and paid for it with Syracuse scoring six of its goals after taking possession.
"We're disappointed," said Tigers coach Carl Runk. "We worked hard this week. You think it's on the right things, but we got to the game and seemed to forget a lot and lose our poise.
"On clears we'd drop the ball or throw it over someone's head. Syracuse has a great deal of skill, but I can't remember us playing this poorly."
Clune (St. Mary's) was a bright spot for Towson with four goals, three of them unassisted, as Runk decided to isolate him and try to draw fouls. "He has a lot of maturity for a freshman," Runk said.
But the Tigers couldn't convert when they did benefit from a penalty call, going 1-for-8 on extra-man chances.
Towson, ranked 14th last week, is 1-3 after opening with four home games, including a discouraging loss to Penn State and a one-goal setback against Maryland.
The victory was the Orangemen's fourth straight over the Tigers.
"The most important thing we've got to overcome now is the feeling of getting used to this [losing]," said Runk. "We're disappointed, but I still think we've got a big one in us somewhere."