Joe Breschi, the head coach of the North Carolina men’s lacrosse program, was impressed when potential transfer Chris Gray visited Chapel Hill over the summer and thanked him for the opportunity to visit.
Breschi’s admiration has only grown, especially after Gray amassed eight goals and one assist in the No. 7 Tar Heels’ 17-10 thrashing of No. 15 Johns Hopkins before an announced 2,749 at Homewood Field in Baltimore Saturday afternoon.
Gray, a junior attackman who transferred from Boston University, set a career high in goals for North Carolina (4-0) and was one point shy of his personal best in points. He had a natural hat trick with more than a minute to spare in the first quarter and eclipsed his previous career high for goals with his seventh tally with 8:50 left in the last frame.
Five of Gray’s goals were assisted (three by junior attackman Alex Trippi), and he credited offensive coordinator David Metzbower’s game plan for his outburst.
“I think it’s just doing whatever I can to help the team,” Gray said. “Even if I score three goals, if I can help with feeding, it’s just playing within Coach Metzbower’s system, and it kind of worked out for us today.”
Breschi, a Baltimore native and Loyola Blakefield graduate whose team won for the seventh time in nine meetings with the Blue Jays, said Gray’s presence has already altered the offense’s identity.
“He’s just such an unselfish, humble player with an energy that has brought a sense of confidence to the offense,” Breschi said. “Now we’re kind of threats all over the field as opposed to more midfield-oriented, which we were the past three years. So for him to come in and really embrace the guys as the guys have embraced him, it’s fit like a glove.”
Gray is the first opponent to score eight goals against Johns Hopkins since at least 2002. The last player to compile nine or more points was Duke’s Justin Guterding (10) in a 2017 NCAA tournament first-round game.
“He just does such a good job of finding the open man or capitalizing on space,” Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said. “We talked all week about taking space, and we didn’t take space at all. We didn’t get into his hands, I thought we slid to him a couple times when we shouldn’t, we didn’t find him on the backside one time. He’s an extremely talented kid. He has changed them dramatically.”
Too much EMO
Johns Hopkins had allowed Towson and Loyola to score only once in six extra-man opportunities. The Tar Heels scored on their first four man-up chances and finished the game at 5-of-7.
North Carolina’s prowess on extra-man opportunities should not be terribly surprising considering the offense had converted 9 of 11 situations in its first three games. Blue Jays sophomore defenseman Owen McManus said the Tar Heels did exactly what the coaches had prepared the defense for.
“We know they’re a team that can move the ball,” said McManus, an Idlewylde resident and Friends graduate. “We watched the film all week, we planned for it, and we planned for their plays. But when it came down to it, they just executed their plays better than we executed our defense.”
Too much 10-man ride
North Carolina’s 10-man ride was another known commodity, but Johns Hopkins still failed to clear the ball six times in 19 chances.
Two of those mistakes led to goals against the Blue Jays, who had erred on eight clear attempts in the first two games. A turnover after a defensive stand contributed to an extra-man goal by sophomore attackman Nicky Solomon that gave the Tar Heels a 7-4 lead with 12:04 left in the second quarter, and another gaffe led to junior attackman Alex Trippi converting a two-on-one for an 11-6 advantage with 7:57 left in the third.
“I thought we didn’t attack it with poise,” Pietramala said of North Carolina’s ride. “Too many times instead of going up the field and moving the ball to an open guy, we turned around and went backwards. Too many times we tried to throw a ball to a guy who was covered. We didn’t do a very good job of communicating to the open man. We’ve got an extra guy. Somewhere there’s an extra guy, and we didn’t do a very good job of locating him.”
Too much pressing
Johns Hopkins unleashed a game-high 14 shots each in the second and third quarters, but had only three combined goals to show for their effort.
Senior attackman Cole Williams (three goals) and sophomore midfielder Garrett Degnon (two goals) were the only players on offense to finish with multiple goals as Williams and fellow attackmen Forry Smith and Joey Epstein combined for six of the team’s 15 turnovers. Epstein, who chastised himself for an errant skip pass that was easily intercepted, said he and his teammates were trying to claw back from the deficit too quickly.
“You can’t have that happen,” he said. “You’re not going to make a comeback by trying to play differently. You have to stay poised and continue to play good team offense.”