BALTIMORE—Conventional wisdom says good defense beats good offense. So far in this NCAA tournament, the Blue Devil offense has looked unstoppable.
Top-seeded Duke continued its quest for a second straight national championship, racking up 15 more goals in a 15-12 win against fifth-seeded Denver Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium. The Blue Devils received hat tricks from senior Jordan Wolf, junior Kyle Keenan and sophomore Deemer Class en route to a date with Notre Dame in the NCAA title game Monday at 1 p.m.
Ahead 8-4 at halftime, Duke withstood a furious Denver rally in the third quarter, thanks in part to the wealth of experience on its roster.
"You're behind at half, you're ahead at half, you come from behind, you score under leads, sometimes your opponent just beats you, sometimes you allow your opponent to come back," Duke head coach John Danowski said. "So I think at this point in the year the guys have drawn from all these different experiences, and I do think our senior class in general has provided exceptional leadership from day one, and they have been in [a lot of] these [games]."
Wolf, a finalist for the Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation's most outstanding player, had a quiet start to his afternoon, misfiring on his first three shots in the first quarter. He assisted Chad Cohan to give Duke (17-2) a 3-2 lead at the end of the opening period, then got his day started with 4:54 left in the second quarter, catching the rebound on a shot by Myles Jones and sneaking it past Pioneer goalkeeper Ryan LaPlante.
Far from done, Wolf added another goal a little more than two minutes later, capitalizing off of an unforced Denver turnover to extend Duke's lead to 7-4. He finished off his personal 3-0 scoring run with a running shot 7.5 seconds before the halftime horn. Wolf's third score gave him a first-half hat trick and his team an 8-4 lead and seemingly all the momentum heading into the locker room.
"I had a tight stick in the beginning, a little bit of nerves," Wolf said. "I was fortunate that Myles shanked one off the goalie and I was able to get a rebound. Those little plays are the ones that get you going."
Denver (15-4) pulled LaPlante coming out of the locker room hoping to stop the bleeding, but backup Jamie Faus had similar troubles containing the potent Duke attack. Keenan greeted Faus with his second goal of the day to push the Duke lead to 9-5 before midfielder Christian Walsh added another.
But the Pioneers would respond. Three consecutive Denver goals cut Duke's 11-7 lead to one goal before Jones finally beat Faus to stop a Blue Devil scoreless drought of nearly six minutes. Duke was unable to find an answer for Denver junior Wesley Berg all afternoon, as the attackman racked up five goals despite a broken thumb.
Keenan—who scored four goals on four shots in stead of injured senior Josh Dionne—put a stop to the Pioneer rally with his final goal of the afternoon, putting the Blue Devils ahead 13-11 with 3:44 remaining. Fifteen seconds later, Class added his third goal of the day to give Duke some breathing room.
"The game is full of runs. We had ours in the first goings of the game, and we knew they were going to have theirs. It was a matter of how we reacted and responded," Jones said. "Our defense, sort of let a little pressure off team seeing when we had the ball we were successful and that, no matter what, if they got a stop for us, we were going to get the ball [and] we were going to do something with it. I think those goals were huge for us. You kind of get down a little bit even though you have the lead when a team starts making runs, but it's just focus and try to put one in to stop the bleeding."
Making his first start for Dionne, who went down with a knee injury in Duke's quarterfinal win against Johns Hopkins last weekend, Keenan's shot proved crucial in helping the Blue Devils stifle the Pioneer comeback bid. The goal itself was a Dionne specialty—a left-handed finish cutting to the middle of the field.
"I was in the right place at the right time," Keenan said. "I've got to credit my teammates, I got a bunch of great feeds. Just working with Jordan, Case [Matheis] and Dionne all week on my spacing, being at the right place at the right time, and I was just fortunate to be there today."
Kyle Turri, who replaced starting goalkeeper Luke Aaron in the midst of Denver's last-gasp run, made several key saves down the stretch to keep the Pioneers at bay. Danowski repeated the strategy he employed against Johns Hopkins last weekend, bringing in Turri to close out the contest.
"It's very hard to come off the bench, especially without a warmup," Jones said of Turri. "He came in there, took command of the defense, and when we needed big stops to stop their runs, I think he was a leader out there."
Danowski called the junior's performance between the pipes "somewhat of a vindication" for Turri, who was pulled in favor of Aaron in Duke's Feb. 15 matchup with Denver back in Durham and subsequently lost the starting job. In that game, Turri managed just one save and allowed four goals—Saturday, he saved four and gave up just two.
"[I have] all the confidence in the world in that kid," Wolf said. "I've been shooting against him for two years. I know what he brings to the table, he's won a national championship before. He has all the experience in the world and has all the confidence of our team and coaches, so it was no big deal. He did an unbelievable job."