The start was memorable – for all the wrong reasons – but the ending figures to be a lasting memory for the Duke men’s lacrosse team.
The seventh-seeded Blue Devils roared back from a 5-0 deficit and scored 11 of the second half’s 15 goals to knock off top-seeded Syracuse, 16-10, in the NCAA tournament final Monday at Lincoln Financial Field.
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An announced attendance of 28,224 – the smallest crowd to watch a title game since 2002 – saw the Blue Devils (16-5) improve to 2-1 in championship finals and prevent the vaunted Orange from extending their Division I-leading total of national crowns to 11. (The NCAA does not recognize the 1990 title won by Syracuse after the team was cited for using an ineligible player.)
Duke was paced by junior attackman Jordan Wolf’s six points on four goals and two assists. Senior midfielder Josh Offit posted three goals and two assists, and senior midfielder Jake Tripucka added two goals and two assists.
Sophomore goalkeeper Kyle Turri finished with 10 saves Monday and 26 stops for the weekend, while junior Brendan Fowler won 20 of 28 faceoffs and scooped up a game-high 14 ground balls. Fowler, who won 36 of 59 faceoffs and collected 26 ground balls this weekend, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
The Blue Devils appeared to be on the cusp of losing for only the second time in their past 15 games when the Orange sprinted to a 5-0 advantage – a run capped when redshirt freshman attackman Dylan Donahue converted a pass from sophomore attackman Kevin Rice with 42 seconds elapsed in the second quarter.
That is when Duke scored five of that period’s six goals and five of the six goals registered in the third quarter. In tournament games against Cornell and Syracuse this weekend, the Blue Devils outscored their opponents, 23-7, in the second and third quarters.
“Nobody scripts being down 5-0, and inside, I think we’re all freaking out,” coach John Danowski said. “But Jake Tripucka’s first goal allowed everybody to relax a little bit and having Brendan Fowler at the faceoff X doesn’t hurt anybody’s confidence when he trots out there. At halftime, we basically said that we need to play Duke lacrosse over the next 30 minutes. I don’t know that we did that for the first 15. I think the big stage, the big event got to us a little bit. The guys were a little tight and a little nervous. But I think at halftime and getting back to 6-5 helped everybody settle down and just continue to play the game.”
The championship capped a bewildering journey for the Blue Devils, who had opened the season with four losses in their first six contests. Since a 16-7 loss to Atlantic Coast Conference rival Maryland on March 2, Duke has gone 14-1.
Armed with a 10-7 advantage after three quarters, Duke opened the final period with three more tallies before senior midfielder JoJo Marasco breathed a little life into the Orange by scoring a pair of unassisted goals within a 35-second span. But with Syracuse pressing and double-teaming to regain possession of the ball, the Blue Devils scored three of the last four goals to cement the victory.
After misfiring on 10 shots in the first quarter, Duke shot 44.4 percent (16 of 36) in the final three periods.
“With such a big stage, people just want to make plays. It’s a natural occurrence,” said junior attackman Josh Dionne, who scored three goals. “I just think our coaching staff did a great job at settling us down. We wanted to play Duke lacrosse, and I think everyone saw that when we started doing that. Our seniors got patient and we got patient and we went back to our smart spacing.”
Donahue led the Orange (16-4) with four points on three goals and one assist, and Rice contributed one goal and three assists. But Syracuse sustained scoring droughts of 22:19 and 11:17, and coach John Desko credited the play of Fowler for keeping the ball in Duke’s possession.
“It’s a powerful offensive team, and to play defense so much, especially in the second half of this game, we were just asking too much of our guys,” Desko said. “They kept putting the pressure on, and they played very patient. They had a few more turnovers in the first half than the second half, and when they’re not turning the ball over and they have all those possessions off of faceoffs, it’s pretty hard to try to get some kind of comeback against them.”
Notes: Joining Fowler on the All-Tournament team were Wolf, Tripucka and senior midfielder David Lawson. Marasco, Donahue, Dominic Lamolinara (St. Mary's) and sophomore defenseman Sean Young represented Syracuse, and Cornell senior attackman Rob Pannell and Denver senior attackman Eric Law were also selected. … The Orange’s senior class became the first group since 1999 to graduate without capturing an NCAA championship at least once.