The Tobacco Road rivalry moved north to Charlottesville, Va. this weekend as Duke defeated North Carolina to claim the ACC crown.
After defeating Maryland 6-5 in the lowest scoring game in ACC tournament history to reach the championship game, the top-seeded Blue Devils scored five unanswered goals Sunday in the third period against the third-seeded Tar Heels to earn a 12-9 win—the program’s seventh conference title.
“We were delighted to be successful,” Danowski said. “I was really happy with our effort in the second half. Defensively, our guys were really consistent... and offensively the guys just kept grinding and working at it, and we made plays and got momentum.”
But the first half was controlled by North Carolina, which held Duke scoreless for the final 24:37 of the opening half after giving up two early goals to the Blue Devils. Freshmen Chad Tutton and Jimmy Bitter, sophomore Mark McNeill and junior All-ACC selection Marcus Holman scored to give the Tar Heels a 4-2 lead at the half.
“[At halftime] we talked about just staying on task, the importance of ground balls, and shooting—getting inside a little bit and getting tighter to the goal,” Danowski said.
Although North Carolina won the overall ground-ball battle 39-36, the Blue Devils’ ability to pick up ground balls was the difference-maker during the team’s decisive 5-0 run in the third period. Christian Walsh, who finished with a career-high six points, scored or assisted on each of the five goals.
“Michael Manley and Will Haus picked up two significant ground balls in the third quarter that created a lot of emotion and energy for our team,” Danowski said. “Those were really the plays of the game.”
With just over a minute left in the third period, North Carolina freshman Joey Sankey tallied a goal, pulling the Tar Heels within two.
In the first seven minutes of the final frame, Bitter and Tutton each scored a goal, sandwiched in between scores by Duke senior Robert Rotanz, to keep North Carolina within two goals. A tally by Tutton with 7:19 remaining in regulation made it a one-goal game, but two crease-roll scores from Blue Devil junior Jake Tripucka put the game out of reach for the Tar Heels, who could not overcome the three-goal deficit in the final 2:51 of play.
Duke only got the opportunity to face North Carolina after a cathartic victory over the fourth-seeded Terrapins, who had beaten the Blue Devils in the teams’ last three meetings—including the 2011 ACC championship and NCAA semifinals.
Duke took just six seconds to score, as Costabile netted a goal off the opening face-off. A pair of goals from All-ACC Terrapins Joe Cummings and John Haus—Blue Devil freshman Will Haus’ brother—put Maryland up 2-1, but a tally from Walsh in the final minute of the period knotted the score at two.
Assisted by sophomore All-ACC selection Jordan Wolf, Dionne kicked off the second-quarter by scoring on an extra-man opportunity. The Terrapins responded with a man-up goal of their own just 40 seconds later, when junior Mike Chanenchuk fired an outside shot past Wigrizer to even the score at three. In the final two seconds of the period, Dionne scored his second goal of the day. In a swarm of Maryland defenders, he scooped up a ground ball and scored with his back to the net to send the Blue Devils into the locker room with a 4-3 advantage.
Senior Justin Turri put Duke up 5-3 with an unassisted goal 1:27 into the second half. Less than four minutes later, Chanenchuk cut the Blue Devils’ lead to one with a goal, and both teams went scoreless for the final 10:09 of the period.
Maryland won the fourth-quarter opening faceoff, but Costabile caused a turnover and dished the ball to Dionne, who completed his hat trick and pushed the Blue Devils’ lead back to two. With 2:09 remaining in regulation, Cummings ended the Terrapins’ 23-minute scoring drought to make it a one-goal game again, but Wigrizer came up with two saves in the final 19 seconds of the matchup, denying Maryland the opportunity to send the game into overtime.
“Each week [Wigrizer] has been getting progressively better,” Blue Devil head coach John Danowski said. “Dan has grown tremendously. Every season has its ups and downs, but tough individuals will learn from their mistakes and push forward and grow, and Danny has done that.”