By JOHN BOSCHINI
Here come the Tar Heels
Ben Speas scored twice and added an assist as North Carolina rolled to its third ACC title with a 3-1 victory over Boston College.
The Tar Heels offense came from an unlikely source as Speas equaled his goal-scoring tally for the season. The win halted Boston College's unexpected charge into the finals in which they dispatched second-seeded Maryland and No. 3 Duke.
“I’m very proud of our team because Boston College was an outstanding team and they’re going to do very well in my opinion in the NCAA tournament,” North Carolina head coach Carlos Somoano said. “We hadn’t had to deal with a team coming at us that much this season.”
North Carolina's leading scorer Billy Schuler came on in the second half after Boston College cut the deficit to 2-1 thanks to Kyle Bekker's stunning free kick in the 62nd minute. It was the first goal Scott Goodwin has conceded in three games. Somoano became the first coach to win the ACC tournament in his first year on the job and this was North Carolina's first ACC title since 2000.
Neither team created much of anything early in the game with Carlos McCrary's downward header opening the scoring in the 38th minute. Speas created space down the right touchline and lofted a high cross to McCrary, who made no mistake from less than five yards out. Speas added a goal on top of the assist five minutes later, albeit in controversial fashion as his free kick from 40 yards out bounced through the 18-yard box and into the back of the net. Boston College thought goalkeeper Justin Luthy had been impeded but referee Tony Russo waved away the Eagles' furious protests.
"I'm not criticizing the referee because we have the chance to see it on TV but the keeper was impeded," Boston College head coach Ed Kelly said. "It was tough but North Carolina's a good team."
The Eagles came out in the second half pouring men forward in an attempt to get back into the game. Eventually they did when Bekker's fantastic free kick left Scott Goodwin frozen and the ball clanged off the post and skidded over the line just after the hour mark.
The goal prompted Somoano to bring on Schuler and the red-shirted Junior made an immediate impact, halting Boston College's momentum with a vital assist. Schuler broke into the box and cut the ball back across the face of goal to a waiting Speas and the transfer from Akron smashed the game winner into the gaping net.
Boston College poured forward in the final half-hour and created several quality chances but couldn't find their way past Goodwin. A terrible defensive blunder from North Carolina left Colin Murphy alone in front of goal but his chip wasn't quite high enough. Goodwin was called upon again in the final 10 minutes with a point-blank save. Despite the goal, UNC's defense is gelling heading into the NCAA tournament with only two goals conceded in six games.
"We won't go very far if we're not defensively solid and they're doing a great job," Somoano said of his back line. "They're very much in sync with each other which is the difference between now and earlier in the season."
Both teams can now turn their attention to the NCAA tournament. Kelly is hoping that Boston College's intense offensive attack in the later stages of Sunday's final will be a spark they can carry into the NCAA tournament.
"The last 10-15 minutes of that game were electric," Kelly said. "It builds a lot of character and we should be proud of ourselves because we were really, really close there at the end."
Somoano, on the other hand, is focused more on keeping the momentum going.
"They're doing a great job," Somoano said of his team. "The team in general has found a good rhythm and we're going to have to work extremely hard this week to keep getting better if we want to make a postseason run."
The good news for the Tar Heels is the road to the College Cup will likely go through Chapel Hill, where North Carolina has not lost all season. Speas, perhaps emboldened by a tournament in which he was named MVP, is more direct.
"We're not done at all," Speas said, "We're going to take this into the NCAAs"
What did you think of North Carolina's win? Do you think the Tar Heels can win a national title? Boston College fans, are there any positives you can take from today's defeat?
Share your thoughts below.