CHAPEL HILL — For the third straight year, Duke was knocked off by Notre Dame in the ACC tournament semifinals after winning the regular season matchup.
An inability to consistently win face-offs and numerous unforced turnovers on the offensive end—two issues that have plagued the Blue Devils all season—came back to bite the team. The third-ranked Blue Devils won just nine of 26 faceoffs and had 12 turnovers en route to a 12-10 loss to the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish Saturday afternoon at the UNC Lacrosse stadium.
It was only fitting that a lost final draw and a turnover ultimately did the Blue Devils in for the game. After trailing by as many as five in the third quarter, Duke slowly chipped away at the lead to cut the deficit to 11-10 following CJ Carpenter's fourth goal of the contest. However, Brian Smyth could not secure the draw against Charles Leonard with 2:57 left in the contest and a foul on Terry Lindsay allowed the Irish to have an EMO opportunity with 1:27 left.
Although Cade Van Raaphorst blocked a shot with 67 ticks remaining to secure possession for Duke and an opportunity to tie the contest, a turnover by goalie Turner Uppgren on an attempted clear led to a Notre Dame empty net goal by Bryan Costabile—one of five tallies on the day—to end the Blue Devils' hopes.
"Next time we lose, we collect the equipment," head coach John Danowski said. "We are disappointed just in general. Win or lose, we want to play a certain way and I think our lack of discipline was obvious today, our lack of fundamentals. And that’s on me, that’s on the head coach. I’ve done a very poor job with this group. To look like we did today at this time of the year, that’s on me."
The first quarter was representative of the game for the Blue Devils (11-4, 2-2 in the ACC) as they were shut down offensively by the Fighting Irish (8-5, 2-2) and forced to play defense for much of the first 15 minutes. With Notre Dame securing all five draws, Matt Schmidt denying Duke three times at the net and the Blue Devils coughing up the ball four times, the Fighting Irish opened up a 3-1 lead with two Costabile goals. Three saves from Uppgren and two caused turnovers from the Duke defense kept it in the contest.
"[Notre Dame] was very relaxed from the beginning. I thought they knew they were going to win. They were very comfortable in their game plan," Danowski said.
The second quarter started in the same fashion, with Notre Dame securing the draw, but Uppgren made a nice save before Van Raaphorst threw away the ball for the second time on the day, leading to an empty net goal for Wheaton Jackoboice.
"I thought our guys were panicky, they were jittery. We threw the ball away for a goal - we haven’t done that all year and we did it early and we did it at the end, in the second quarter and the fourth quarter," Danowski said.
It appeared the tides were turning after the aforementioned gaffe with an unassisted EMO goal from CJ Carpenter, who has had a knack for timely scoring. A subsequent crease violation on the Irish nullified a goal, leading to a diving Carpenter finish to cut the deficit to 4-3 with just over 10 minutes left in the half.
But, the Irish responded by sandwiching a pair of goals on either side of a lone Nakeie Montgomery tally to take an 8-4 lead entering the break after a sloppy first half. The two squads combined for 17 turnovers, only six of which were caused. Notre Dame won 11 of the 14 draws, had nines saves and outshot Duke 23-15 at the half.
"We have struggled all year facing off. Today we faced off three different people. Their guy is terrific. He whooped us the last time we played them," Danowski said. "But, the second half was even, it was 50-50. If we are 50-50 that is the goal, we love to be 50-50."
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Coming out of the break, the Blue Devils looked to explode as they typically do, outscoring opponents by 25 goals in the third quarter on the season. However, after an early Cameron Badour EMO goal to cut the deficit to three, the Irish did not let down, converting on two straight goals to extend their lead to five, the largest on the day. Duke responded with two goals of its own in the last four minutes but could not convert on an EMO opportunity in the last 30 seconds to mute some of the momentum and enter the final period still down 10-7.
The Blue Devils fought valiantly in the fourth but were unable to ultimately overcome their slow start. Duke had multiple chances to get the gap to one after cutting the deficit to two with 8:10 remaining but Schmidt remained a rock in cage to keep Duke at bay. The sophomore finished with 18 saves in a contest that featured top goalkeeping on both sides with Uppgren having 15 of his own.
"We thought we had a lot of good looks. Joe Manown had two good looks on the doorstep. CJ Carpenter had a good look on the back pipe," Danowski said. "Their goalie was just terrific, their goalie was great."
With the loss, the Blue Devils will await their seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Duke finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in RPI, and will be a formidable foe for any team, boasting four top-five victories on the year.