Hot start carries No. 8 Duke men's lacrosse past Virginia 20-11 on Senior Day

<p>On Military Appreciation Day, the Blue Devils jumped out to a 6-0 lead and never looked back.&nbsp;</p>

On Military Appreciation Day, the Blue Devils jumped out to a 6-0 lead and never looked back. 

A little less than two months ago, the Blue Devils suffered two losses in their first four games and looked like they might once again have to cope with inconsistent play from their defense and midfield lines.

Now, with eight wins in its last nine contests, head coach John Danowski’s team is as hot as any after leaning on its offensive firepower for a third straight top-20 ACC victory Saturday afternoon.

No. 8 Duke dominated No. 18 Virginia in the first 15 minutes, jumping out to a 6-0 advantage after one quarter of play before cruising to a 20-11 win at Koskinen Stadium. The Blue Devils’ top two weapons, senior Jack Bruckner and junior Justin Guterding, exploited a leaky Virginia defense for six goals apiece.

Guterding also tallied four assists, tying a career high with 10 points as he became the 13th player in program history to surpass 200 career points. Duke claimed its fifth top-20 win of the year and will finish the regular season 3-1 in ACC play, with other games to determine what seed the Blue Devils will get in the upcoming ACC tournament April 28-30.

“Offensively, I thought we executed very well early, which gave us a lead where we could relax a little bit,” Danowski said. “It’s a little bit different when you play with a lead—defensively, you’re a bit more energized and you gain momentum from making a save or creating a turnover.”

From the get-go, Duke (10-3, 3-1 in the ACC) was in rhythm, with Bruckner opening the scoring and his fellow attackman Guterding tallying his 200th point less than two minutes later. The two then combined for a pretty score 45 seconds later when the 6-foot-1 Bruckner put home an easy score off a dime from Guterding.

And with the rout underway, the home team added three more goals before the end of the opening period, quickly distancing themselves from the shell-shocked Cavaliers (8-6, 0-4).

“Every week you’re hoping to have a quarter like that,” Danowski said. “Against Carolina, we didn’t have that two weeks ago. This week, we did.... It set the tone for sure.”

After an unassisted goal from Virginia’s Ryan Lukacovic finally got the Cavaliers on the board less than a minute into the second quarter, the Blue Devil attack turned it right back on, finishing the half on a 4-1 run to carry a 10-2 lead into the locker room.

Duke took advantage of its midfield depth, running three different lines to keep Virginia on its toes. Although the Blue Devils started freshmen Reilly Walsh and Kevin Quigley along with sophomore Brad Smith, veterans such as senior Tripp Transou and junior Matthew Giampetroni saw plenty of time as well.

“It was awesome,” Guterding said of playing three lines. “Our third line works so hard every single week and it paid off—they had a great game and we’re really proud of them.”

Coming out of intermission, Lukakovic and Mike D’Amario countered with two Cavalier goals in 56 seconds to slice the Duke lead to six. Virginia senior Zed Williams then added a third tally less than two minutes into the third quarter, and suddenly, it was 10-5.

But the Blue Devil attack would not stay quiet for long—Bruckner flipped home a rebound to make it 11-5. He then added a fourth tally on a two-man advantage, and his fifth score of the afternoon—and third in the third quarter—stretched the Duke lead back to eight.

One of 11 Blue Devils with Final Four experience, Bruckner has poured in 14 goals in his last three games and erupted again on his Senior Day—his recent hot shooting coupled with Guterding’s precision has Duke rolling and looking like a team that is ready to contend for a fourth national title since 2010 next month in Foxboro, Mass.

“It meant everything to me [to get this win],” Bruckner said. “I was just really happy to win at home and to see these younger guys look up to me how I looked up at guys like Jordan Wolf, Christian Walsh and Josh Dionne.... It’s come full circle.”

Despite entering the contest winless in the ACC, the Cavaliers have excelled in the ground-ball game, averaging 45.2 per game—more than 15 better than the next best team in the conference.

On Saturday, however, the Blue Devils won the battle on the turf. Duke forced Virginia into 16 turnovers and collected 45 ground balls compared to just 35 for the Cavaliers. The Blue Devils also got another solid effort from senior goalkeeper Danny Fowler, who made 11 saves in the win despite allowing nine second-half goals.

After clinching double-digit victories for the 11th straight season, Duke will turn its attention to a matchup at Marquette next weekend before hosting the conference tournament.

Although the Blue Devils rolled past the Golden Eagles 16-1 last season and have been dominant lately, Danowski still wants to see improvement in certain areas as Duke looks to advance past the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014.

“We have to work on transition offense, we have to get better clearing the ball, we have to have a little more poise,” Danowski said. “With a 10-2 lead, you think it’s going to be easy—it’s never like that, so that was probably another lesson learned this afternoon.”

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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