Men's lacrosse: Williams X-cels in win over Albany

The sophomore's nearly-perfect night in the face-off circle helps SU pull away in the second half.

Ben Williams’ dominance at the face-off X propelled Syracuse to a win over in-state rival Albany in a matchup tightly contested for much of Thursday evening at the Carrier Dome. 

Williams won 24 of 27 face-offs for the No. 2 Orange (8-1, 2-1 Atlantic Coast) against Albany (7-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast) before being pulled in the middle of the fourth quarter as SU emerged victorious, 17-12.   

While the Syracuse offense struggled in the early going, Williams’ consistency kept the team in the game so that the Orange could eventually pull away once the offense really found its rhythm after halftime. 

“The kid was unbelievable at the X” Albany head coach Scott Marr said. “That was ultimately the difference in the game. The amount of time we played defense, and had to get stops and get the ball to our offense. It was a challenge.” 

After transferring from Holy Cross to the SU hill, Williams has become one of the best face-off men in the country this season. Going into the game, Williams had a 67.2-percent conversion rate at the X, the fifth-highest average among all NCAA players. In five of the Orange’s first eight games, Williams was able to win at least 15 face-offs. 

This made Thursday’s matchup between Williams and Albany freshman Cason Liles somewhat of a David vs. Goliath matchup. Liles was making his first start after teammate Connor Russell suffered a serious knee injury against UMass-Lowell on Saturday. 

Liles played well in that game, winning 17 face-offs, but Williams would not allow him to have similar success in his first full collegiate start at the X. 

“We were just going to try to jam him up, try to make it a loose ball,” Marr said. “But again, (Williams) was on every whistle and on every ball. So we really didn’t have a chance to do that. It was frustrating not to have the ball. Giving the ball to a good offense like theirs... it’s tough to budge.” 

Williams would win every face-off in the first and third quarters, losing only three of them in the second frame. 

The frustration for Liles started to show as the game wore on with play growing increasingly chippy. 

“A lot of guys like to talk a little on the field, try to give me some cheap stuff,” Williams said. “The freshman did say some stuff I was kind of surprised by, so I don’t know. They can do that all they want.” 

Williams’ dominance proved necessary with the Orange offense sputtering out of the gate. SU had five turnovers in the first period, including two that led directly to scores by the Great Danes. 

Although Williams won every faceoff in the first period, the Orange could only match Albany with four goals. 

“The first quarter we had some turnovers we didn’t want,” Syracuse head coach John Desko said. “So that wasn’t our game plan. We want to take better care of the ball early.” 

Once Syracuse found its rhythm on offense and stopped turning the ball over, it left Albany with little chance to stick around. 

Even still, the man recently drafted first overall in the 2015 Major League Lacrosse draft, Albany attack Lyle Thompson, didn’t lack firepower against the Orange. 

Even with what Maar estimated to be about only 15 minutes of possession in the game for the Great Danes, Thompson recorded 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) to show why he won the Tewaarton award with his brother Miles last year. 

“We want to make sure that the ball is on our offensive end, not in (Thompson’s) stick at the other end of the field,” Desko said. “Who knows if it’s a 50/50 possession what the score would be?  So, I think that was huge for us. Ben did a great job, just gave us all those opportunities.”

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