There may be no player more dangerous in the country than Loyola attackman Pat Spencer. The senior, who dropped three goals and five assists in his first-ever NCAA tournament game against the Blue Devils three years ago, entered Thursday night tied for the lead in the nation at 7.4 points per game.
Spencer is the engine that gets the Greyhounds going, and he's the main reason why they came to Durham ranked No. 3 in the nation.
But for the third straight season, Duke emerged victorious, as the sixth-ranked Blue Devils jumped out to an early 11-3 advantage on their way to a relatively straightforward 12-7 win at Koskinen Stadium. Duke dominated offensively, logging nearly twice as many shots as Loyola, while also holding Spencer to just one first-quarter goal and only two assists.
Although it was a sloppy start for both teams, the Blue Devils cleaned things up, turning the ball over just three times in the second and third quarters combined after totaling five in the opening 15 minutes. Duke kept the heat on the Greyhounds all night, forcing 15 turnovers by the visitors, and head coach John Danowski gave a lot of credit to his defense—Loyola scored just one goal over the course of a 35-minute span between the first and fourth quarters.
"We did a good job riding today," Danowski said. "That was probably our best day riding—Brad Smith picked off a couple and Joe Robertson, too. The guys did a good job of being in the right spots, and that's something we practice often, so getting the ball back and getting those extra opportunities does two things. One, it gives you confidence, but two, it keeps the ball away from your opponent."
On a cold night, it was a blazing start for the Blue Devils. Duke sophomore Nakeie Montgomery needed just 41 seconds to find the back of the net from in tight, before adding his second score from long distance less than four minutes later.
And after the visitors answered with a pair to tie things up, Montgomery completed his hat trick, breaking the deadlock before the end of the first quarter to give the Blue Devils (6-1) back the lead for good.
"Loyola's a good offensive team, one of the better offensive teams in the country. Your best defense is a good offense," Montgomery said. "They like to get out fast, they want to clear the ball and play in transition, so if we shoot shots that the goalie can catch, then it's just as much bad defense as it is bad offense.
"We tried to shoot the ball smart, limit his saves and Coach [Danowski] talked about...playing as a unit, playing together and playing Duke lacrosse."
The Blue Devils only kept their feet on the gas as the second quarter got going. Junior Joey Manown notched back-to-back goals and senior Brad Smith added his eighth of the season to carry a 6-3 lead into the locker room. Duke then poured it on after the break, scoring five goals in the third quarter to turn the game into a runaway.
Montgomery added a fourth score to pace the Blue Devils along with Manown, who tallied two more after intermission.
"We think all our midfielders are capable. Tonight was Nakeie's night," Danowski said. "He shot the ball very smartly. He shot the ball low and away.... When he's able to just catch and release, he's extremely accurate and he just has a feel."
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The Greyhounds (4-2) would not go away, though, scoring just seven seconds into the fourth quarter to end their drought. Chase Scanlan added his third goal of the night for Loyola with 8:39 to play, and with two goals in less than a minute soon thereafter, the Greyhounds had a chance to pull off a miracle comeback.
But sophomore Joe Robertson salted away the Duke victory, scoring right before the shot clock expired to put the Blue Devils up five with just 88 ticks remaining.
Duke will now ride a five-game winning streak into Tuesday's home contest with first-year program Utah before turning its attention to a massive matchup against top-ranked Towson next Saturday.