For much of the first two months of the Blue Devils’ season, it was smooth sailing.
Even with a shocking upset loss at Pennsylvania, Duke was still ranked in the nation’s top three and just twice all season had the Blue Devil defense surrendered double-digit goals, making life easy for one of the country’s most dangerous attack units.
Yet with the start of ACC play came a wake-up call—a home loss to then-No. 13 Syracuse and a nail-biting one-goal victory last weekend against unranked North Carolina in Durham showed that Duke still had its flaws. So with the Blue Devils facing a talented Notre Dame team on the road Saturday, it was only fitting they would turn in one of their most flawless efforts of the season.
Thanks to a dominant second-half defensive performance, No. 6 Duke cruised past the 12th-ranked Fighting Irish 8-2 at Arlotta Stadium in Notre Dame, Ind., holding the hosts scoreless for the final 32-plus minutes. Blue Devil netminder Danny Fowler had to make just four saves all afternoon, as Notre Dame was forced to play without its top two offensive weapons in terms of points per game, Bryan Costabile and Brendan Gleason.
Gleason’s absence was his second in as many games due to injury, but Costabile was in street clothes, and the Fighting Irish did not give any reason as to why the sophomore did not play Saturday.
Regardless, it was an opportunity Duke knew it could capitalize on, moving to within a game of first place in the ACC with just one more contest before the conference tournament later this month.
“I think after the last two weeks, the guys were all disappointed in their performances against Syracuse and North Carolina,” Duke head coach John Danowski told ESPN after the win. “We also knew that Notre Dame was without some people today and we tried not to mention that during the week, but we knew they were missing some people, so they were going to have to play a little more conservatively or differently. They did, but we’re certainly delighted with the overall performance.”
Despite being somewhat shorthanded, the Fighting Irish jumped ahead first, getting a goal from Brian Willetts just 61 seconds into the game. But Notre Dame (5-4, 1-2 in the ACC) then went cold and failed to score for more than 26 minutes, instead watching the Blue Devils grab control with a prolonged 4-0 run.
Joe Robertson got the first tally of the afternoon for Duke before a laser from lefty Peter Conley gave the Blue Devils a lead they never relinquished late in the opening quarter. Kevin Quigley then beat the first-quarter buzzer to extend Duke’s lead to 3-1.
And if the Fighting Irish thought they could hold Blue Devil star Justin Guterding down, it didn’t last all that long—the senior got in on the action, taking advantage on one of just two extra-man opportunities Duke (10-2, 2-1) had all game. Guterding finished the day with only two points on two goals, though, and other Blue Devils instead sparked one of the nation’s highest-flying offensive units.
“In any team sport, it’s not just your star players—it’s all the guys, and somebody’s going to have to step up and make a play,” Danowski said. “Today, it was Sean Lowrie and Kevin Quigley who made plays.”
Even with Duke in control up 4-2 at halftime, the game certainly wasn’t out of reach. But without some of its best scoring options, Notre Dame was never able to climb back into it. Lowrie, a junior, got on the board with back-to-back goals in the third quarter as the Blue Devils stretched their lead to four at 6-2 with the Fighting Irish mustering just three shots and none on goal in the period.
From there, it was cruise control the rest of the way. Guterding and Joey Manown added fourth-quarter goals to salt away the victory as Duke held an ACC opponent to just two goals for the first time in almost 13 years. Playing in 29-degree weather could not cool down the conference’s hottest man-down defensive unit—the Blue Devils kept Notre Dame off the board all three times they were forced to play with just five, and Duke still ranks among the top 10 man-down teams in the nation.
“Actually, no it wasn’t that bad, honestly,” Danowski chuckled when asked about the frigid April temperatures.
Now, the Blue Devils will have another week to prepare for their final ACC contest of the season as they head back out on the road for a matchup with Virginia. The 11th-ranked Cavaliers picked up their first regular-season conference win since 2012 Saturday, topping the Tar Heels 15-12 in Chapel Hill.
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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."