Syracuse and Villanova to meet tonight in Inaugural Lacrosse Big East Championship

Syracuse and Villanova to meet tonight in Inaugural Lacrosse Big East Championship

The Orange men's lacrosse team earned the third seed in the inaugural BIG EAST Men’s Lacrosse Championship and will face tournament host and No. 2 seed Villanova on Thursday, May 3 at 7:00 PM.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The Orange men's lacrosse team (7-7, 3-3 BIG EAST) earned the third seed in the inaugural BIG EAST Men’s Lacrosse Championship and will face tournament host and No. 2 seed Villanova (8-6, 4-2 BIG EAST) in the semifinal round Thursday, May 3 at Villanova Stadium. The Orange is looking to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive and avenge an 11-10 regular-season loss to the Wildcats that represented the team’s first-ever conference defeat.

Syracuse was one of three teams (Georgetown and St. John’s were the others) to finish with a 3-3 record in conference play, and earned the tournament’s No. 3 seed by holding the advantage in goal differential against the Hoyas and beating the Red Storm head-to-head.

Thursday's game will air live on ESPN3 (Internet only). It will also be shown Thursday at 11 p.m. on ESPNU. Fans can hear the action live on the radio home of the Orange - TK 99 (99.5 FM) in Syracuse. Live streaming audio is available on as part of Orange All-Access.

The BIG EAST started sponsoring men’s lacrosse in 2010, but this is the first year of the league championship tournament. Regular-season champ Notre Dame is the top seed and will play No. 4 seed St. John’s in the tournament’s first semifinal at 4:30 p.m. The Orange and Wildcats follow at 7 p.m. The two semifinal winners meet at 12 p.m. Saturday, May 5 to decide who receives the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship.

Prior to 2012, the BIG EAST did not possess an NCAA automatic qualifier nor hold a conference championship. The league champion was determined by winning percentage in regular-season conference games. Syracuse won the first BIG EAST regular-season championship in 2010 and repeated as regular-season champs in 2011.

Senior attackman Tommy Palasek leads the Orange in points (41), assists (22) and he is tied for second in goals (19). Palasek is averaging 3.6 points per game in his last nine outings. He's flanked by sophomore Derek Maltz, who leads the club with 26 goals, and redshirt senior Tim Desko (19g, 8a).

Midfielders Bobby Eilers and JoJo Marasco have combined for 50 points, including 27 goals. Eilers leads all SU middies with 15 goals and Marasco has 12. Marasco is second on the squad behind Palasek in assists with 17.

Junior Brian Megill is Syracuse's defensive leader. He's picked up a career-best 50 ground balls and has already set the school single-season record with 32 caused turnovers. Redshirt junior David Hamlin has started all 14 games at close defense and has 24 ground balls and 13 caused turnovers on the year. Freshman Brandon Mullins joins Hamlin and Megill in close. Mullins moved into the starting lineup seven games ago. He's been a consistent presence and has collected 18 ground balls and forced 19 turnovers.

Freshman Bobby Wardwell has started the last six games in goal. He has a .500 save percentage and a 9.60 goals-against average with 54 saves.

Junior JoJo Marasco has at least one point in each of SU’s last 22 games and 30 of the Orange’s last 31 games since the start of 2011. The only time over the past two seasons Marasco has been shut out was April 9, 2011 at Princeton. Marasco kept his current point streak alive with two goals and one assist at Notre Dame on April 28.

Along with Marasco, redshirt senior Tim Desko is the only Orange player with at least one point in every game this season. Desko has a goal in 12 out of 14 games in 2012 and has six multi-goal games to his credit.

The Wildcats are 5-6 in their last 11 games after the starting the season 3-0. Villanova won its first four conference games of the year before losing its last two to Notre Dame and Providence. The 15-11 defeat at Providence in the regular-season finale represented the Friars’ only BIG EAST win in three years of conference play.

The Wildcats are the top offensive team in the BIG EAST, leading the league in goals per game (10.71), assists per game (7.5) and points per game (18.21). They feature four players with at least 30 points. Attackman Kevin Cunningham (20g, 21a) is tied for second in the league in points per game (2.93). Will Casertano (16g, 20a) and midfielder C.J. Small (13g, 18a) have 36 and 31 points, respectively. Jack Rice leads Villanova and ranks second in the BIG EAST with 29 goals.

Chris Creighton (28 GBs, 24 CTs) anchors Villanova’s close defense. He’s flanked by Ryan McDonogh (13 GBs, 6 CTs) and Christopher Conroy (12 GBs, 9 CTs). Goalie Dan Gutierrez had started every game for the Wildcats. Gutierrez sports a 10.09 goals-against average and a .479 save percentage.

Two of the team’s strengths have been the faceoff X and extra-man offense. Villanova leads the BIG EAST with a .541 (186-344) faceoff winning percentage. Thomas Croonquist is ninth nationally in individual faceoff winning percentage (.605, 130-215) and he has a team-best 62 ground balls. In addition, the Wildcats are second in the NCAA in man-up offense, converting on 29-of-56 (.518) opportunities.

Syracuse is 4-1 all-time against the Wildcats. The Orange has outscored Villanova 75-35 in the five games. Syracuse won the first four games in the series before Villanova broke through earlier this season, knocking off the Orange, 11-10, at the Carrier Dome on March 25. The loss was Syracuse’s first since the formation of the league in 2010, and ended the program’s 14-game conference winning streak. The Orange owns a 2-0 series advantage in road games against the Wildcats.

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