Duke used stellar play in its NCAA regional to easily earn a spot in this year’s national championship—a marked improvement from a year ago, when the team finished 14 shots away from a chance to compete for NCAA title.

The Blue Devils could not keep it together at Rich Harvest Farms, though, and will have to watch the sport’s champion be crowned from outside the ropes.

After carding an opening-round, 10-over-par score of 298 that left it in a tie for 26th, Duke found itself needing to bounce back with two solid rounds to move into the top-15 cutoff needed to advance past the third round of stroke play competition in Sugar Grove, Ill. The team improved slightly Saturday with a score of 292 but shot a second 298 Sunday and never found itself in contention to break into the top-15, ultimately falling into a tie for 22nd place and 17 shots short of extending its season for at least another 18 holes.

"It was just not a week where we had one player play at their best level. We had a lot of guys just play okay this week," head coach Jamie Green said. "Nobody played terrible golf, nobody really played the best that they’ve played all year, and when you’re matched up with that level of competition, it’s tough to get in the top half."

Senior Matt Oshrine ended his Blue Devil career with the team’s best score in its return to the NCAA championship, finishing in a tie for 50th with a three-day, 1-over-par total of 217. Oshrine also claimed the Blue Devils’ lowest single-day score of the week Saturday by birdying four of his first eleven holes compared to just one bogey on the par-4 17th hole en route to a 3-under-par 69.

The Baltimore native shot a 75 Friday and began Sunday’s round with an eagle on the second hole, but bogeyed five of his final 14 holes to turn in a 73 and finished two strokes away from advancing to the fourth round as an individual.

"He’s got a lot of strengths in different parts of his game, but what he brings to the golf course in terms of intelligence, in terms of approaching the game and then adds to it the athleticism, it’s great for our young guys to see," Green said. "He’s great on the leadership side in terms of making everybody feel at ease with themselves and each other, and then as a player, he can put up strong numbers."

Alex Smalley entered the event riding the momentum of two straight top-five finishes but cooled off this week on the par-72 course, ultimately posting Duke’s second-best total to finish his sophomore campaign. The Wake Forest, N.C., native opened the tournament with a double-bogey on the 410-yard first hole, but leveled two birdies and an eagle on the par-5 11th hole thereafter to counter two more bogies and eventually notch an even-par 72. Smalley shot the same score Saturday thanks to another eagle—this time on the par-5 18th—and began Sunday’s round with three birdies in his first seven holes, but bogeyed four straight on the back nine to shoot a 77, good enough for a tie for 76th place.

The advancing teams will compete in a final round of stroke play Monday before an eight-team cutoff is applied to create the bracket for the following days’ match-play rounds. Two rounds of single-elimination match play will be played Tuesday, with the championship match being held Wednesday afternoon.

Chandler Eaton is among a trio of Duke golfers that finished outside of the top 100, as the freshman struggled to a tie for 112th-place finish on the 7300-yard track. On Friday, Eaton was 1-under-par standing on the 15th tee, but double bogeyed the hole and went on to also triple bogey 17. The five-shot swing in four holes left the freshman with a score of 75, which he could not improve upon Saturday, as he failed to birdie a hole and posted five bogeys-or-worse on his way to a 78. Eaton improved significantly Sunday, though, as he shot 2-under-par on the back nine to recover from a 3-over-par front, leading to a 73.

"We’ve got a strong youth class in [Smalley and Eaton], but also guys back home that weren’t here and guys that we have coming in as freshmen," Green said. "That being said, I want to make sure that we don’t let go of this year too soon.... There are so many good accomplishments that these guys were able to walk away with. Winning an ACC championship and doing so by 12 shots, you talk to anybody in our league, that’s something really special."

Junior Jake Shuman finished one stroke ahead of Eaton to tie for 107th, bookending a Saturday round of 73 with two scores of 76. Despite the similar scores, Friday’s and Sunday’s rounds were quite different, as Shuman’s front nine score increased by five strokes between rounds while his score on the back nine improved by five strokes thanks to birdies on 17 and 18 to close the tournament. The Needham, Mass., native also tied Oshrine with the most birdies by any Blue Devil, finding red numbers on nine of his 54 holes.

Duke’s lineup was rounded out by senior Alexander Matlari, who tied for 138th place. Like Shuman, Matlari turned in scores of 76 both Friday and Sunday, but Matlari had seven bogies-or-worse Saturday to finish with an 80.

"The goal when you start the year for every team out here is to be finishing your season on the 18th green at the host of the national championship, in this case Rich Harvest Farms, and that’s what they did," Green said. "We had two guys there in Matt Oshrine and Alex Matlari who had not been to the national championship before, so to be able to lead the team there and to lead the team throughout the year, I know that’s going to be a great memory for them."

Headlining the remaining teams are No. 1 Southern California, No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Vanderbilt and five other top-10 squads. Among ACC competitors, No. 19 Virginia and No. 24 Florida State will stick around for at least one more day.

In the race for the individual national championship, No. 10 Texas’ Scottie Scheffler leads No. 21 Mississippi’s Braden Thornberry by one shot with seven other players within five strokes of the lead. The champion will be named following Monday's final round of stroke play.

Hank Tucker contributed reporting.