Duke entered the weekend undefeated against three top-10 opponents this year.
And in front of a packed crowd on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the No. 8 Blue Devils kept that perfect record in big games intact, defeating seventh-ranked Notre Dame 14-8 at Koskinen Stadium. Coming off two consecutive losses to begin ACC play, Duke seemed like it was playing angry all game. Despite some flaws exposed over the last couple weeks, the Blue Devils’ continued track record against top competition proves they are one of the most talented teams in the country—a unit nobody wants to see flooded with confidence.
“We have always had confidence,” senior attackman Sean Lowrie said. “We just did not play as well as we should have the last two weeks. “Coming in, obviously this week we had a great week of practice, had a great game. So we are just going to try and mimic that and go into the next game with the same intensity and the same confidence."
Duke (9-3, 1-2 in the ACC) had three players with five-point days—sophomore Joe Robertson and senior Brad Smith both posted three goals and two assists, while sophomore Nakeie Montgomery added a goal and four assists. Lowrie added a hat trick as well. Sophomore Connor Morin carried the Fighting Irish with half of the team’s eight goals.
The Blue Devils also made some lineup changes entering the contest, playing Smith as a midfielder rather than an attacker for the first time this season and inserting Lowrie into the starting lineup.
“We all felt that the experiment to play as an attackman was noble,” Danowski said. “He is more suited to be a midfielder. And if you are going to move him, you are going to need somebody to move into attack so we had guys kind of share that playing time—[Lowrie] and C.J. Carpenter—and they both came up with big days.”
Duke started off the afternoon slowly. After taking a 1-0 lead just 56 seconds into the game, the Blue Devils were held scoreless for the remainder of the first period. Meanwhile, Notre Dame (5-4, 1-2) notched three first-period goals—including one just seconds before the buzzer sounded—to take a 3-1 lead after the first 15 minutes.
The Blue Devils shot just 1-of-4 with five turnovers in that first period, but they quickly flipped the switch. Danowski’s squad posted double-digit shot attempts in every period the rest of the way while totaling only eight more giveaways.
In comparison, the Fighting Irish shot 3-of-10 and coughed the ball up only two times in the first 15 minutes, but did not post more than four shot attempts in any other period and finished the game with 16 turnovers.
The second period was all Duke, with the Blue Devils exploding for six goals—the most Notre Dame has allowed in a quarter this season. Montgomery had his name all over the statsheet, starting off the run with two assists and dancing around the defense himself to put Duke up 7-4 two minutes before halftime. Morrin responded with a goal of his own a minute later, but the Blue Devils still headed to the locker room holding a 7-5 edge.
“I had some choice words for the boys,” Danowski said of his team’s shift in intensity between the first and second periods. “They looked a bit tentative. They looked a little bit like they were on our heels, and the deal is you've got to compete. If you lose, you lose. But you've got to be in there and I do not know that our guys were fully engaged in that first quarter.”
Coming out of halftime, Duke scored the first two goals via Lowrie and freshman Garrett Leadmon. But the story of the third quarter was the Blue Devils’ defense. Notre Dame was held scoreless for the first 14 minutes of the period before Morrin wrapped around the back of the goal and finally ended the drought.
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Nevertheless, Montgomery found Robertson with a beautiful feed four seconds before the buzzer, with the sophomore putting it in the back of the net for a score to seize back the momentum.
“It was things we had practiced during the week,” Danowski said of his team’s ability to find the open man all day—Duke totaled 10 assists. “Not necessarily for Notre Dame but just general lacrosse IQ, where we want to throw the ball inside or throw the ball to the pipe. And it was something that we worked on every day...and it is something that we hope to continue obviously as our IQ grows.”
The Blue Devils took control in the fourth, scoring four more goals in a row to put the game to bed.
Duke will now prepare for yet another top-10 matchup at home next Saturday, this time in the form of No. 4 Virginia.