Duke caps March surge with victory

Duke knew this year would be different than the past few seasons. Early on, that meant the worst February in program history.

Now, it means one of the largest in-season improvements in recent memory.

The Blue Devils improved to 6-1 in March, beating Dartmouth 12-6 Saturday at Stony Brook. Sophomore attackman Zach Howell led No. 10 Duke with a career-high five points, and junior attackman Max Quinzani had two goals and two assists for the first multi-assist game of his career.

"It's been night and day," Howell said of the team's performance now compared to the beginning of the season. "It's been slow and steady, but every week we feel like we're getting better.... We always have something to work on, and we're always working toward an ultimate goal, and we're always working toward getting better."

The Blue Devils (8-3) outshot the Big Green 24-11 in the first half, including 13-3 in a second quarter that was highlighted by a late 3-0 Duke run. After Dartmouth (2-6) closed the gap to 4-3 10 minutes into the period, Howell sparked the surge by scoring his second goal of the day on the following possession.

Then Mike Catalino and Quinzani scored seven seconds apart in the final minute to give the Blue Devils a 7-3 halftime edge.

"We got a lot of shots, but we didn't necessarily shoot great," said senior midfielder Brad Ross, who scored three goals. "The goalie played well. You just keep shooting, and sooner or later you hope they go in, and they started to go in in the second quarter."

The Big Green narrowed the gap to 8-5 late in the third quarter, but the Blue Devils answered with four straight goals to eliminate any chance of a comeback. Dartmouth goalie Fergus Campbell registered 17 saves, the second time this season a Duke opponent has stopped that many attempts.

But unlike the Blue Devils' 10-6 loss to Cornell March 17, Duke was still able to put 12 shots into the cage. And although the team continues to have room for improvement, the Blue Devils are encouraged by the progress they have made since the season opener.

"No doubt [we've improved]," head coach John Danowski said. "It's what we thought. This team needed experience. This team needed to play games. There's no amount of practice that can simulate a game and no amount of scrimmages. They needed to be in tough situations. And as you can see week after week, you can see the maturity, you can see the growth, and we're delighted to see that."

As Duke continues its rise back into the nation's elite, though, it still hopes to work on converting more of its shots. After that 6-for-37 performance against the Big Red, the Blue Devils converted 9-of-29 in a win against Georgetown before falling back to 30 percent against the Big Green.

"We've been a great team at times, for 10 minutes, for five minutes," Ross said. "Now what we're trying to do is put it together and be a great team for 60 minutes."

The key to making that next step is to continue to work on the little things, Howell said-ground balls, clearing and faceoffs. Duke has done those things well for stretches, but it is still looking to put together a complete game.

As the Blue Devils have stressed all year, though, it's a long season. And if Duke continues its current course, it will peak in April and May-just as the Blue Devils had hoped.

"The fact that we're winning while still having that much room to improve is very good," Howell said. "Going forward, if we keep doing those little things, we will be able to play for longer stretches, and ultimately we hope that the end product the last game of the year, we'll be able to play that way for 60 minutes."


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