Blue Devils fall in final seconds to Syracuse in ACC Championship semifinalsThat is what Duke learned on Friday night.
Although the Blue Devils clung to a 15-14 lead with less than 30 seconds left, back-to-back goals by third seed Syracuse in the waning seconds of the game sent second-seeded Duke back to Durham without an ACC championship game appearance.
The pair of last-second goals gave the No. 4 Orange a 16-15 win against the No. 2 Blue Devils at PPL Park in Chester, Penn. The win was Syracuse’s first against Duke in the last five matchups between the two teams and avenged the 21-7 lashing the Orange suffered at the hands of the Blue Devils March 23.
“Statistically, we took more shots, we out ground-balled them by 15,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “We won 10 more faceoffs, 3-for-3 on extra man, 0-for-4 for them on man down. But their players, it’s kind of strange, they played better than our players. They won the individual battles. When there were opportunities to make plays around the goal...they made plays.”
With the game tied at 14 with 3:15 to play, Duke’s top offensive threat, senior attack Jordan Wolf, came through with his first goal of the game to give the Blue Devils a one-point advantage. For the next two minutes, it seemed as if the lead would hold.
But with just 15 seconds left, Syracuse’s Randy Staats tossed a pass from behind the net to midfielder Billy Ward, who managed to sneak the ball past Duke goalie Luke Aaron.
In the ensuing faceoff, the Orange's Chris Daddio bested last year’s NCAA Tournament MVP Brendan Fowler to give his team one last shot to win the game. In the final seconds, amidst confusion on both sides, junior attack Kevin Rice lofted the ball over the middle of the field to Dylan Donahue, who scored just as the final horn sounded.
“We’ve been playing together for a while, and when Daddio got that faceoff, it was a huge win,” Donahue said. “He gave it to Randy [Staats] and I was looking to cut. I think Kevin [Rice] was looking to cut too. He passed it to Kevin, which was probably an easier pass, and I just backdoored the shot.”
Syracuse will now face the winner of the game between top-seeded Maryland and fourth-seeded Notre Dame Sunday at 5 p.m. The Blue Devils will have one final non-conference game against Boston University May 4 and will then await a seed in the NCAA tournament.
Duke got off to a hot start early in the match, outscoring the Orange 5-2 in the first quarter behind two goals from Deemer Class and one from Case Matheis. The two sophomores lifted the team early as the Syracuse defense locked down on the Blue Devils’ most prolific scorers, seniors Josh Dionne and Wolf.
But just like later in the game, as soon as Duke built a comfortable lead, it lost it soon after. The Orange scored four quick goals in less than five minutes and took a 6-5 lead in the second quarter.
“The biggest thing that slowed us down was ourselves,” Dionne said. “I know I did not run down a ground ball there in the fourth quarter. That’s a possession that we lost. It was little things – I was not catching the ball the greatest at times. The little things like that, we were not putting it on people’s sticks enough.”
The Blue Devils still trailed with two minutes to play in the first half, but Matheis scored a pair of goals and Dionne added another to give Duke a 10-8 halftime lead.
Matheis, a sophomore from Darien, CT., picked up the offensive slack on a night when Wolf, the team’s leading scorer, was limited to just one goal. Matheis finished with three goals.
Again, the Blue Devils built a 14-10 lead in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, but the Orange stormed back, scoring four straight goals to tie the game. The neck-and-neck tempo of the game sharply contrasted Duke’s 14-point blowout earlier in the season.
“There is a sense you have when prepare for games like this, as coaches, we knew it was not going to be 21-7 again,” Danowski said. “We have been doing this a long time and we have seen this before, it happens all the time.”
But instead of being up by 14, the Blue Devils found themselves tied at 14.
Donahue—who finished the game with four goals and two assists—foreshadowed a bitter ending for Duke when he shot the ball between the pipes with 4:29 left in the game to knot the game at 14.
The loss ends the Blue Devils’ tough ACC campaign in which they went 4-2 against ranked teams. With an NCAA Tournament berth in his team’s future and a tough month ahead in May, it is a simple message that Danowski will be preaching to his team for the rest of the season.
“You have to earn everything you get,” he said. “Every day. That is as old as the hills.”