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Duke men's lacrosse looks for offense to soar against Air Force

<p>After scoring four goals in Duke’s 20-6 rout of Georgetown Saturday, senior Deemer Class and the rest of the Blue Devil offense will look to keep rolling against Air Force Tuesday.</p>

After scoring four goals in Duke’s 20-6 rout of Georgetown Saturday, senior Deemer Class and the rest of the Blue Devil offense will look to keep rolling against Air Force Tuesday.

With back-to-back wins on their resume after dropping two straight games to open the month of March, the Blue Devils will look to close out nonconference play with another victory in their four-game homestand.

No. 11 Duke will return to action after a two-day break at 7 p.m. Tuesday to take on Air Force at Koskinen Stadium. The Blue Devils dispatched Georgetown 20-6 Saturday at home, and will look to continue their newfound offensive prowess to ground the Falcons for the third consecutive year.

“Right now as we leave spring break, there’s a confidence level that we didn’t have two weeks ago,” Duke head coach John Danowski said after Saturday’s win against the Hoyas. “There’s also an experience level—we’ve now played nine games, which is a lot…. We have a little more experience, a little more confidence, and it allows us as the weather gets nicer, hopefully that we can be playing our best here in the next month.”

One of the biggest changes since the beginning of March for Duke (6-3) has been an outburst in offensive firepower. Against Georgetown, the Blue Devils converted on an unprecedented 20-of-33 shots to blow out the visiting Hoyas and had three players record at least three goals.

In the midst of its two-game losing streak, Duke struggled to find the back of the net for long spans of time that put them in a difficult position to rally. Against Harvard and Richmond, the Blue Devils were victims of 8-0 and 4-0 runs, respectively, but against Loyola March 12, the tide turned. Duke went on its own six-goal barrage to upend the Greyhounds, and continued to exploit the game of runs with four-, five- and eight-goal bursts against Georgetown.

With nine games down, the Blue Devils have three players—sophomore Justin Guterding, junior Jack Bruckner and senior Deemer Class—with a team-high 23 goals to spread around the scoring. But the entire offense will have to get past Air Force goalkeeper Doug Gouchoe, who sports a 57.0 save percentage and allows an average of just 6.81 goals against.

“I’m not sure it’s anything but hard work. Sometimes you’ve got to get knocked back—not only Harvard, I think the team needed to lose to Richmond to recognize that nothing is given to you in athletics, nothing is given to you in life and you earn everything that you get,” Danowski said. “That starts in practice, so maybe the focus in practice wasn’t as great, maybe we had to work a little harder in practice.”

On the other end of the field, Duke's defensive unit will need to keep the Falcons (6-2) off the scoreboard long enough for the Blue Devil scorers to put the game away. Since the home loss to the Spiders, Danowski's squad has allowed just six goals in each of the last two games.

Much of the success stems from junior goalkeeper Danny Fowler’s ability to keep the ball from between the pipes. If Fowler can continue to add to his 81 saves on the year and improve his 52.9 save percentage against Air Force’s top goal scorers Chris Walsch and Christopher Allen—who have combined for 31 goals—then Duke could be in a good position to grab its seventh win.

“Defensively, I think we’re starting to understand how to play team defense, which all starts with great individual technique out on the ball,” Danowski said. “We’re supporting the man who's defending the ball a lot better, and we got great goalie play [against Georgetown]. Danny Fowler I think made nine saves, I think it was 75 percent save percentage, which might be his career-high. That is something that you just can’t help but smile about.”

Even with a solid defense, the Blue Devils will have to play a complete game against the Falcons to prevent the visitors from snagging a win. After dropping two wins against top-20 teams to open the season—including a one-point loss against No. 1 Denver—Air Force has been on a tear with six consecutive victories.

But since the loss to Richmond, Duke has seemed like a different team in its own right and will look to build on the past two weeks to ride a wave of momentum into conference play next weekend.

“I think we rallied around that loss [against Harvard] and really came together and reflected on ourselves,” Bruckner said after Saturday’s win. “We buckled down and went back to the fundamentals of putting the ball in each others’ stick, and it’s plain and simple.”

Ryan Hoerger contributed reporting.


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