When the Blue Devils fell behind 6-2 early in the third quarter Sunday afternoon, things looked bleak for Duke once again facing another ranked opponent.
But after dropping its first two top-25 matchups of the season, the Blue Devils showed improvement by rallying for a dramatic early-season victory.
Junior Justin Guterding and senior Jack Bruckner combined for six goals and four assists, catching fire in the second half as No. 20 Duke used a 7-1 spurt to down 12th-ranked Richmond 9-8 Sunday afternoon at Robins Stadium in Richmond, Va. Although the Spiders pulled within one with 5:35 remaining, a J.T. Giles-Harris takeaway with about a minute to play sealed the Blue Devils’ first win away from home this season.
Duke looked like a different team after halftime, outscoring one of the nation’s top defensive units 7-1 during the 16-minute stretch that defined the game to hand Richmond its first loss.
“We played with a lot more passion [in the second half],” Blue Devil head coach John Danowski told GoDuke.com. “I thought we played scared and pretty tight and afraid in the first half. During halftime, we spoke to them in a stern tone and they seem to have responded to that.”
Sophomore midfielder Sean Lowrie kicked off Duke’s 7-1 run with 9:06 remaining in the third period off a feed from freshman Reilly Walsh. Guterding and Bruckner then took over and showed why they are legitimate Tewaaraton Award candidates, closing the quarter on a 3-0 run to tie the game at six heading into the fourth period.
After a J.P Forester tally momentarily put the home team back in front, the Blue Devils (4-2) firmly took control with three goals in 51 seconds. Walsh ignited the eruption on a feed from Bruckner, then the senior attackman and Guterding set each other up for consecutive scores to give Duke its largest lead. Guterding finished with three goals and three assists, with Bruckner also notching a hat trick to go along with his helper to Walsh.
“Attackmen, they play around the goal, and they make plays,” Danowski said. “Justin has been playing with a lot of confidence, and so has Jack. They have seen a lot of lacrosse in their time here so it is not surprising that they made plays in the second half.”
With Duke breaking in a brand new offensive midfield group, Bruckner and Guterding are showing that they can carry the Blue Devils against top competition.
The Spiders (4-1) entered the game as the nation’s best scoring defense—surrendering just 4.3 goals per game—but goalkeeper Benny Pugh could only muster eight saves with Bruckner and Guterding firing away at will in the second half.
“The attack didn’t really touch the ball in the first half,” Bruckner told GoDuke.com. “We talked at half ime about taking better care of the ball. We realized what our potential was and that we were not playing up to what it should be in the [first half]. It was a team effort and [we] all came together instead of going our separate ways, which we could have done and it would have been the easier route. If you have guys that have your back, it makes the game so much easier.”
The Blue Devil defense also tightened up in the second half, limiting the time of possession for the Spiders and ensuring that the ball was in Bruckner or Guterding’s sticks with the game on the line. After five penalties in the first half spotted Richmond a 5-2 halftime edge, the Duke defense cleaned up its play and locked on to Richmond’s best playmakers.
Forester found the back of the net three times for the Spiders’ only goals of the second half as senior goalkeeper Danny Fowler posted 10 saves, including a crucial final stop that prevented the game from going into overtime.
“Defensively, the chemistry piece takes a while to develop, but with these last few weeks of preparation, they seem to be gaining confidence each week out,” Danowski said. “Man-down wise, they prepared well and reacted to what they say on film [from the Spiders] and they never got out of shape.”
Senior Kyle Rowe went 5-of-6 at the faceoff X to keep the ball away from the Spiders in the final quarter of play, and added five ground balls for one of his best all-around games of the season.
Duke returns to Durham to host No. 11 Loyola—the team that eliminated the Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA tournament a year ago—Saturday at noon. Duke will test its defense against All-American Pat Spencer, who torched the team a season ago.
“First challenge is midterms, with tests and papers this week, which is not easy,” Danowski said. “It is the beginning of spring break, and we’ve got a great Loyola program coming in and that is the next challenge.”
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