Before Friday night, Duke and Notre Dame had met 16 times in the last ten years and were often evenly matched in the regular season.
The postseason was a different story, the Blue Devils romped to a 6-2 record against the Fighting Irish beginning in 2010, including wins in the ACC tournament in 2015 and 2016 and the 2010 National Championship game. However, after Friday's contest, that postseason run has firmly ground to a halt.
For the second time in as many years, No. 2 seed Duke fell to third-seeeded Notre Dame 14-11 in the ACC tournament semifinals at Klöckner Stadium in Charlottesville, Va. Ryder Garnsey’s five goals stole the show for Notre Dame, which came out firing after being held to just two goals in the regular season meeting between the two teams.
Playing in his final ACC tournament, senior attackman Justin Guterding had two goals for Duke, but it was not enough against a stifling Fighting Irish defense playing for its NCAA tournament life after a lackluster regular season.
“[Notre Dame] made plays and we didn’t. It was that simple,” said Blue Devil goalkeeper Danny Fowler. “They made plays, picked up ground balls, hit shots, I didn’t make saves, we didn’t get stops and that was the difference.”
From the get-go, the clear difference between this Notre Dame team and the one that struggled against Duke (12-3) in the regular season was the presence of Bryan Costabile and Brendan Gleason. Although it was Garnsey who opened the scoring and recorded Notre Dame’s first two goals of the game, Costabile and Gleason were key cogs in the Fighting Irish’s offense, which all but disappeared in the last meeting with the Blue Devils. After Garnsey got the scoring going, Costabile followed him up with a pair of early strikes as well from opposite sides of the cage, the second one assisted by Gleason.
The biggest possession of the game featured all three players late in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame took possession of the ball with just over eight minutes remaining to start what would end up being a grueling five minute test of Duke’s defense, which bore several strong scoring chances by the Fighting Irish and finally forced a turnover by Garnsey to seemingly end the threat and swing the momentum back in favor of the Blue Devils.
However, on the clear Duke’s Peter Welch lost the ball, and Costabile scooped the ground ball, was forced to the ground and somehow managed to maintain possession long enough to feed the ball to Gleason as he toppled out of bounds. As both teams struggled to race back, Gleason took off towards the cage and found Garnsey, who put away his easiest goal of the day to give back Notre Dame (7-5) a lead it would not surrender again.
“We knew they were going to have some guys back they didn’t have last time,” Fowler said. “They did everything we thought they were going to do. They executed, we didn’t.”
That play was representative of the tone of much of the game for the Blue Devils, who were facing an especially tenacious Fighting Irish team that entered the game firmly on the outside of the NCAA tournament bubble. The game started slow for Duke, which could not find its scoring stroke against one of the perennial best defenses in the nation, a unit that held the Blue Devils—the nation’s top offensive team—to just eight goals in their earlier meeting this year. However, the momentum began to swing back in Duke’s favor at the end of the first half.
Trailing 6-2 with under a minute remaining before the break, Welch corralled a ground ball and fed it up the field to Brad Smith, who found freshman Joe Robertson cutting up around the net for the rookie’s first postseason goal. On the ensuing faceoff, Notre Dame faceoff specialist John Travisano, Jr. scooped up the ground ball and took off towards the net and fired an ill-advised shot at Fowler.
Fowler made a nice outlet pass to Duke’s own faceoff specialist Brian Smyth, who then made a fantastic feed of his own to Robertson, who found the back of the net for the second time in 20 seconds to send the Blue Devils into halftime trailing only by two and riding newfound momentum.
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Duke continued to build off that momentum in the third quarter, and finally tied the game with just under six remaining in the quarter as senior Mitch Russell found Reilly Walsh in the middle of the defense for the first of the latter’s three goals on the night. However, Gleason snatched the momentum back at the end of the period, taking a feed from an extremely patient Costabile right in front of the net to give the Irish an 8-7 lead with less than a second remaining.
In the fourth quarter, Notre Dame stretched its lead to two on Garnsey’s third goal of the game, but Duke answered back with back-to-back goals from Nakeie Montgomery and Walsh to tie it up with 10:40 left in the game. After the ensuing faceoff following Walsh’s second goal, the sophomore came through again for the Blue Devils, giving them their first lead of the game with 9:22 remaining.
However, Duke could not hold off the Irish for long. Garnsey faked a shot and fed the ball to Mikey Wynne in front of the net, and the senior from Sykesville, Md., made an outstanding catch and finish to tie the game back up, setting the stage for Costabile, Gleason and Garnsey’s game-winning play just minutes later.
With the win, Notre Dame advances to take on fourth-seeded Virginia Sunday afternoon in the ACC championship game. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, will return to Durham to prepare to host Boston University May 6 ahead of the NCAA tournament.
“[Now] we get back to the drawing board," Fowler said. "Watch some film, and get back to work."