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Strong defense propels Duke men's lacrosse to 15-7 rout of No. 12 Loyola

<p>Rookie Joey Manown had a hat trick Saturday in the Blue Devils' best performance of the season so far.&nbsp;</p>

Rookie Joey Manown had a hat trick Saturday in the Blue Devils' best performance of the season so far. 

Coming into a matchup with the nation’s seventh-ranked scoring offense, it looked like Duke would need to win a shootout to earn a second consecutive win against a ranked opponent.

Instead, the Blue Devils turned in one of their best defensive performances of the past few seasons to defend their home turf.

After falling in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Loyola a season ago, No. 16 Duke dominated the 12th-ranked Greyhounds 15-7 Saturday afternoon at Koskinen Stadium. The Blue Devils held an explosive Loyola attack to a season-low scoring output and used foul goals from senior Jack Bruckner and hat tricks from junior Justin Guterding and freshman Joey Manown to come away with a second straight top-15 win.

“There’s a personality that’s growing with this group,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “Athletically, we’re a combination of young and old. So there’s this balance, guys are learning how to play together. The older guys have seen a lot of situations and the younger guys are growing into it. It’s really been fun to kind of watch them evolve.”

Duke (5-2) took control of the contest in the second period with three goals in a little more than four minutes. The Blue Devils played with the kind of aggression Danowski has been looking for from his team, outshooting the Greyhounds 14-5 in the period and forcing Loyola (3-3) to replace sophomore Jacob Stover in net with junior Grant Limone. But the switch between the pipes did not slow down a Duke team playing with confidence—the Blue Devils tacked on two more scores in the period to take an 8-3 lead into halftime.

“The first quarter we were a little tentative offensively,” Danowski said. “When you’re young, you just don’t want to make a mistake, so you play a little bit on your heels and especially offensively. But as we started to get our feet under us, you could see our confidence growing. Sometimes it doesn’t take a great shot to go in.”

On the other end of the field, Duke’s defense held All-American Pat Spencer—who broke the Patriot League single-game record with nine assists last Saturday—in check. 

The Blue Devil defense’s physicality with the Loyola midfield prevented the Greyhounds from getting easy runs to the net and disrupted the smooth passing that drives Loyola’s offense, which ranked seventh in the nation in scoring coming into the game.

“A lot of teams will kind of panic when he has the ball, but I think we had a good gameplan of trying to make him go or not give him an easy assist,” sophomore defender Cade Van Raaphorst said of the team's strategy against Spencer, who finished with just two goals and one assist. “He got one at the end, but we did a good job of covering him elsewhere.”

When the Greyhounds did get a clean look at the goal, senior Danny Fowler stood tall in net for the Blue Devils. Fowler finished with 14 saves in the win and stopped a few of Loyola’s best chances, preventing the visitors from getting back in the game after halftime.

Duke controlled the action early in the game, maintaining possession and working the ball around to set up good looks on offense. Although the Blue Devils came close to getting on the board in the opening minutes when a Bruckner shot hit the post, the team took an early lead when Guterding fired his 17th goal of the season past Stover.

Guterding nearly added to his total 14 seconds later, but his shot sailed wide right and may have provided the break Loyola needed to find its footing. The Greyhounds scored two quick goals to take the lead, before Duke capitalized on a Loyola penalty to level the score on another Guterding goal. For the game, the Blue Devils scored two of the three times they had a man-up advantage.

After playing Duke even through the first period, the Greyhounds struggled defensively with the Duke attack starting to play more cohesively. Although Spencer got the Greyhounds within four with a goal at the 7:38 mark of the third period, Duke went on a 6-1 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to put the game out of reach.

“We played off of each other. The offense did a great job of keeping the ball a little bit and valuing the ball,” Van Raaphorst said. “Any time you have the ball, that gives us confidence on our end and we get to rest a little bit and that keeps us fresh.”

With some additional time away from classes for the Blue Devils, the team has started to find its groove. Duke will face Jacksonville Monday before hitting the road to face Georgetown in the Blue Devils’ last game before conference play.

Saturday's win also held special significance for Danowski, who tied the all-time Division I record with 375 victories.

“The goal is always to play your best at the end of this year. Right now, this is where we are today," Danowski said. "You just try to get better each week and that’s part of the fun of the journey of athletics and sports. You just keep working and trying to get better.” 

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