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Syracuse has now dropped two straight games, losing to the top two teams in the country in No. 1 Maryland and No. 2 Virginia. The two losses have put a damper on the inaugural stretch of the Gary Gait era, as the Orange haven’t proven they can challenge with the nation’s best.
In comes another ranked team in Army, which boasts the most all-around team Syracuse has faced thus far. A loss will give the Orange their longest losing streak since 2016 and push it further down the national rankings.
Here’s everything you need to know about No. 12 Army (3-1, 0-0 Patriot) before it visits No. 14 Syracuse (1-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) on Wednesday:
Army leads the all-time series 41-27.
Last time they played
The two sides last faced in last season’s opener in a battle of the then-No. 4 and 12 ranked teams in the country. The latter, Army, handed Syracuse an 18-11 defeat.
The Orange jumped out to a 6-1 lead within the game’s first 13 minutes before Griffin Cook was called for an illegal right after the sixth goal. It allowed Brendan Nichtern to take advantage of the man-up opportunity and score Army’s second goal of the game in the final minute of the opening period. The Black Knights then went on an 11-2 scoring run into the early stages of the fourth period that featured another man-up goal and three more goals from Nichtern.
After scoring just once in both the second and third period, Syracuse managed three in the fourth, but Army’s five solidified its commanding win in the Dome. While the Orange won the faceoff battle 18-13 and Tucker Dordevic scored four times, they were outshot and conceded 12 turnovers and only caused 10.
The Black Knights report
Like Syracuse, Army’s defeat came against its only ranked opponent this season in then-No. 6 Rutgers. While the Black Knights kept it close in a three-goal loss, they posted a season-low shooting percentage, with just over a fifth of their shots reaching the net. Otherwise, Army’s three wins have been well-rounded victories, featuring 14-plus goal performances and at least 17 saves.
Army is led by its attacking trio of Nichtern, Reese Burek and Paul Johnson, who have accounted for just over half of the Black Knights’ 103 points. On top of that, Wyatt Schupler’s 60.2% save percentage ranks sixth in the country.
The Black Knights surpassed Syracuse in Inside Lacrosse’s rankings, rising three spots to No. 12 after an 18-4 win over NJIT. Army is ranked the exact same as it was when it entered the Dome last year, and it will return Wednesday with similarly high-powered attack and defensive units.
How Syracuse beats Army
Handling Nichtern defensively will be its own challenge. But Army, which has the country’s 14th best scoring defense, will also be the toughest defensive unit Syracuse has faced thus far. Schupler’s 60.2% save percentage is going to be its biggest test between the sticks this season. Fortunately, SU can rely on Dordevic to keep things close. Dordevic scored five times against Holy Cross and Maryland and must match Nichtern’s projected scoring rate to give the Orange a chance.
But Syracuse is much deeper offensively than Army. Nichtern leads Army — and ranks second nationally — in points per game and has scored 30 in the Black Knights’ four games. Their second-leading point scorer is Burek, who has just 12 points. Meanwhile, the Orange’s Brendan Curry and Mikey Berkman sit close to Dordevic’s 13 points. Dordevic was held to just one goal against Virginia, and SU’s defense paid the price, so getting him going, along with its secondary scoring, should give Syracuse an important win.
Player to watch: Brendan Nichtern, No. 20, Attack
Nichtern lit Syracuse up last season, scoring seven points in one of nine games where he recorded at least five points in a game. Through Army’s first four games in 2022, Nichtern has already repeated that scoring pace and is tied for second in the country in points per game with 7.5. The senior has already recorded 30 points this season, scoring as many as 10 against Siena.
With more goals (13) than Dordevic (11), Syracuse’s leading scorer, Nichtern has scored just over a fifth of Army’s goals and accounts for 41.5% of its assists. In two full seasons with the Black Knights (2019 and 2021), Nichtern scored over 25 goals, including a 30-goal freshman season where he recorded a career-best 80 points.
His consistent offensive production mimics some of the Orange’s attacks that left the program a season ago. And with spotty defense against the top two teams in the country, Syracuse’s recent downslide may be the perfect time for Nichtern to continue his recent scoring spell.
Stat to know: 17 saves per game
Army may appear to have some blowout wins on its schedule, but each win has come at the hands of its goalkeeping, where it has recorded 17 saves per game — ranked seventh nationally. Schupler has recorded at least nine saves in each of the Black Knights’ games this season, including a career-high 18 in the opener against UMass where Army won by just a goal. Schupler enters Wednesday’s game after allowing just one goal against NJIT, recording 11 saves in the first half before three other goalkeepers rotated throughout the second half.
While Army will be a similar test to the country’s top two programs, the Orange are the Black Knights’ second-ranked opponent of the season and are equally as offensively dominant. But if Army’s defense remains as consistent as it has been this season, Syracuse could likely drop its third straight game.