The Tar Heels are taking a trip down Tobacco Road this weekend, and the Blue Devils will be waiting for them.
No. 5 Duke, fresh off a heartbreaking, rain-soaked loss to Syracuse, hosts North Carolina at Koskinen Stadium Friday at 5 p.m. The Tar Heels have lost four in a row after starting the season with six straight wins, but North Carolina still has a stable of playmakers that can make a difference in every area of the field. This is the Tar Heels’ first ACC game after losing to Maryland last week 11-7 in the Pacific Coast Lax Shootout.
Last April, Duke outscored North Carolina 7-1 in the second half to pull away for a 12-8 victory. The Tar Heels lead the overall series 41-32, but with four of the past five meetings decided by just one goal, Friday’s matchup could be a battle to the very end.
“They are a hungry team,” Blue Devil head coach John Danowski said. “For us, it has just been about communicating and getting organized defensively. Offensively, it has been about getting organized and taking advantage of opportunities when they are there and then slowing it down when you need to and then playing together.”
The Tar Heels (6-4, 0-0 in the ACC) have some firepower on the offensive side of the ball that has been able to attack the Blue Devil back line in previous matchups. Senior attackman Chris Cloutier, who registered two points in last year’s game, leads the Tar Heels with 25 goals and six assists in 2018. Cloutier was recently added to the Tewaaraton Watch List. Pacing the offense along with Cloutier are junior attackman Timmy Kelly and sophomore midfielder William Perry, an impressive shooter who has 16 goals and six assists on the year.
“You [have to be] aware of where people are,” Danowski said. “But you just have to play right, you have to play correct and that goes week after week. Whether you are playing against Pat Spencer [of Loyola] or [John] Mazza from Towson, it doesn’t matter, you just have to play right and be fundamentally sound.”
North Carolina has played one of the toughest schedules in the country to date, with losses to Denver and Maryland already. Last spring, the Tar Heels were 5-4 entering ACC play and went 3-3 the rest of the way to earn a tournament bid. This year is no different, and the Tar Heels will come into Koskinen Friday needing a win to spark another late-season surge.
“Last year, they were in a very similar situation,” Danowski said. “They had to win the ACC championship in order to move on to the NCAA tournament, and they did it here [at Koskinen].”
Duke (8-2, 0-1) is looking to bounce back from a one-goal loss to the Orange last week. Senior Justin Guterding and sophomore Joe Robertson continue to pace the offense, with 59 and 30 points apiece.
Additionally, Duke’s defense has done an impressive job of shutting opponents down in the early part of the season. The Blue Devils have been holding opponents to just 7.9 goals per game and 28.2 shots per game. The rope unit has held opponents without a goal for 15-plus minutes 14 times already this season, and look for JT Giles-Harris and Cade Van Raaphorst to attempt to lock in on the shifty Tar Heel attackmen.
“Every game is a rivalry in lacrosse,” Danowski said. “If you are putting all this incredible energy into this quote ‘rivalry,’ what do you have for the next week? What do you have for Virginia? [The ACC] is four weeks in a row of just top-notch lacrosse, and we respect Carolina in terms of what they have accomplished, the history of their program the last couple years. That is enough for this game.”
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