With less than a minute remaining in the first half and Duke trailing unranked High Point by a goal, Blue Devils head coach John Danowski called a timeout to set up one more play before the break and give Duke a chance to have some momentum after an ugly start to the game.
The Blue Devils came out and worked the ball around the Panthers defense several times as the clock wound down, only to lose the ball out of bounds behind the net on an unforced turnover.
That play was representative of the entire night for No. 2 Duke, which fell to High Point 13-9 Wednesday evening at Koskinen Stadium after entering the game with a perfect 5-0 record all-time against the Panthers. Similar to their season opener against Furman last week, the Blue Devils got off to a slow start; unlike Saturday, however, the sloppy play carried over for the entire game Wednesday, resulting in a one of the most disappointing losses for the program in recent memory.
“High Point was the better team. They had the better athletes, they were hungry, they outcoached us, they outplayed us, and they were much better,” said Danowski. “With that being said, we played with a tremendous lack of skill, a lack of discipline, and that falls on me. I was fooled. I thought we were different. But we need work.”
The game got off to an ominous start as High Point won the opening faceoff and immediately put the pressure on the Blue Devil defense and goalie Turner Uppgren, firing eight shots in just the first five minutes of the contest.
Uppgren made several impressive saves amidst the offensive onslaught from the Panthers, but the visitors finally broke through on an extra-man goal from Chris Young for the first score of the contest just over five minutes into the game. Three minutes later, Ben Baker beat Uppgren coming around the crease to put Duke (1-1) in a 2-0 hole.
“I thought our guys were rattled early and didn’t play with a lot of poise,” Danowski said. “And thought it was going to be easy.”
Coming out of a media timeout, Duke began to warm up a bit and finally broke through the High Point defense with four minutes left in the period on a breakaway goal from Joey Manown after Uppgren started the break with a tough save. Manown went on to score the Blue Devils’ first three goals of the game, but outside of him Duke could not get going offensively. Nakaie Montgomery found the back of the net to give the Blue Devils a brief 4-3 lead, but High Point answered with two goals of their own to close out the half and send Duke into halftime trailing a team it beat 18-6 a season ago.
In the early part of the second half, the scoring ground to a halt as both defenses dug in, holding each other scoreless until the Blue Devils’ C.J. Carpenter broke through to tie the game with his fourth goal of the season. Once again, however, High Point (2-0) had an answer, and the game went into the fourth quarter tied at six.
For a brief moment, it looked like Duke had finally come alive in the final quarter of play. Manown found Reilly Walsh for a quick goal not even a minute into the period to give the Blue Devils just their second lead of the game. However, the Panthers’ Koby Russell answered back a minute later from the right side of the net to even the game at seven.
Russell’s goal proved to be pivotal, opening the floodgates for a 6-0 run that effectively put the game away for High Point. Less than a minute after Russell scored, High Point’s Tim Troutner Jr. made a key save on Duke’s Kevin Quigley and set off a fast break that culminated in the Panthers taking an 8-7 lead they would not give up. High Point went on to gain possession on the next seven faceoffs to fuel a run in which they completely picked apart a Blue Devils defense predicted to be among the best in the nation this season.
“Defensively we didn’t communicate well. We got beat individually, we didn’t help each other we didn’t slide. I thought we were selfish, we played very individually, and there was a lack of overall leadership,” Danowski said.
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The Blue Devils finished the game with 18 turnovers and failed to convert a single extra man opportunity in five chances. A brief attempt at a comeback late in the fourth quarter came up short, spoiled by a combination of turnovers, lost faceoffs and outstanding play from Troutner Jr., who finished the game with 19 saves and stymied Duke’s offense from start to finish.
The Blue Devils have just one day of practice in Durham ahead of their matchup Saturday at Jacksonville looking to improve upon a profoundly disappointing performance early in the season. For a team many pegged to return to the National Championship game, the trip will be an unexpected test after a loss that leaves them searching for answers in all aspects of the game.
“We didn’t play like a Duke team,” Danowski said. "I’ve got no problem with losing—you win a game you lose a game—but I didn’t think we had a lot of fight in us.”