UNC Defeats Rutgers in OT, Advances to Championship Weekend


Chris Gray (4) hoists Lance Tillman (0) to celebrate one of Tillman's four goals Saturday in North Carolina's 12-11 overtime win over Rutgers in the NCAA quarterfinals at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — It takes a while for traffic to clear out on Long Island.

Connor McCarthy was ready when it did.

The graduate transfer waited to get a clear look at the cage, then fired in the game-winner with 1:38 left in overtime to nudge top-seeded North Carolina past Rutgers 12-11 in an NCAA quarterfinal at Shuart Stadium.

Lance Tillman scored four goals after entering the game with five on the season for the Tar Heels (13-2). North Carolina will face fourth-seeded Virginia (12-4) in the semifinals next Saturday in East Hartford, Conn., the teams’ third meeting of the season.

“I love the way we won this game, honestly,” North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. “Obviously, we’ve had some games that haven’t been that close. But for us to grit it out — in particular against a tough, physical team the way we did in the second half — I couldn’t be more proud of these guys and how they did it.”

Adam Charalambides scored four goals and Colin Kirst made 16 saves for the Scarlet Knights (9-4), who fell a game shy of reaching the final four for the first time in program history.

“At the end of the day, the guys played hard,” Rutgers coach Brian Brecht said. “North Carolina’s a good team. They’re the No. 1 team in the country. We’re not going to be perfect, and neither are they. We took care of us and did what we wanted to do and what we needed to do to get a win. Just inches, seconds, one play away.”

Neither team ever led by more than two, they found themselves tied after each quarter and both had opportunities to close it out in overtime prior to McCarthy’s winner.

Kirst made the last of his stops when he stymied North Carolina midfielder Justin Anderson (three goals) less than a minute into extra time. Rutgers scampered down and cleared it, but Tar Heel attackman Chris Gray — who made it to the other half of the field as part of Carolina’s aggressive ride — dislodged it from Connor Kirst’s stick and watched it roll out of bounds for a change of possession.

It was probably the biggest play for Gray, who had three assists but saw his 31-game goal scoring streak end as Rutgers’ Bobby Russo ably hounded him throughout the game. Gray came around the net and found William Perry, who then passed it to McCarthy. He was open, but also had to wait for a scrum in front of the goal to disperse before testing Colin Kirst.

“I was kind of waiting for someone to come out to me, and no one ever really did,” McCarthy said. “I looked kind of awkward running toward the net, but I kind of cocked it back once or twice and realized I had a couple extra seconds so I kept stepping until someone came to me and thankfully got it past Kirst, who played an incredible game.”

In aggregate, the Scarlet Knights largely did. Rutgers never let North Carolina’s potent offense get on a roll, largely refusing to slide in the first half and forcing the Tar Heels to adapt.

And when the Tar Heels did score, Rutgers often had a quick reply, as it had for much of the spring

“If you look at the course of our season, we have a few 20-spots,” Charalambides said.

But if there was a place where North Carolina earned an edge, it was in the middle of the field — especially in the second half. Rutgers had 11 turnovers after the break, and while it was credited with a 19-of-22 showing on clears, it seemed the Tar Heels consistently came up with key plays before Rutgers could set up its offense.

One of them prevented the Scarlet Knights from getting a look in the final minute of regulation, as Justin Anderson (three goals) poked the ball away from Brennan Kamish just after he crossed midfield. But the Rutgers defense didn’t allow the Tar Heels a shot on the next possession, sending the game to overtime.

“Failed clears, we had two or three of them,” Brecht said. “I think that’s average for the game. I think we were pretty good handling the 10-man [ride]. Everything’s not always going to be perfect, but I thought the clearing was as good as it needed to be to get a big win in a quarterfinal game.”

For Breschi, the Tar Heels’ ability to force 13 of Rutgers’ 16 giveaways and convert them into goals was a validation of a season-long emphasis on riding

“You want an identity of who you are, and everybody talks about the explosive offense or the defense that’s come so far this year,” Breschi said. “But the riding game remains. It’s going to be big moving forward next week as well.”

Much of Rutgers’ roster lingered on the field and on the bench for about 15 minutes after its season ended in wrenching fashion. Yet there’s no arguing how meaningful this spring was for the Scarlet Knights, who ended a 17-year NCAA tournament drought after a string of close calls on Selection Sunday.

Last week’s first-round rout of Lehigh was Rutgers’ first postseason victory since 1990. And it had its chances to join 1999 Syracuse and 2011 Maryland as the only teams in tournament history to defeat a No. 1 seed prior to the semifinals.

“Just thankful for the buy-in from top to bottom,” Charalambides said. “It starts with Coach Brecht, and he brought some amazing cats in for this final year. … There were difficulties with COVID and what not, but from top to bottom there was buy-in. That’s the beauty of a team, the beauty of sports. I’m just thankful I got to be a part of all of it.”

The Tar Heels return to the final weekend of the season for the first time since 2016, when they claimed their first title in a quarter-century with an overtime defeat of Maryland. Breschi’s program lost in the first round in 2017, then missed the tournament in 2018 and 2019 before last year’s team was 7-0 when the season was cut short.

This time, the Tar Heels had the chance to finish on their terms. Saturday’s survival means Carolina’s season will at least end in the stadium it aimed to reach all along.

“My goal is to see the joy and the expressions on the faces of the players who get the opportunity to go. Because that’s the ultimate, right? Playing on Memorial Day weekend,” Breschi said. “I’ve lived it and had an opportunity to be a part of something special in 2016, and I know how special that was. These seniors have put us right back in that position.”

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