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Duke men's lacrosse's vulnerability unveiled during upset at unranked North Carolina

<p>Nakeie Montgomery's hat trick was not enough for Duke Saturday.</p>

Nakeie Montgomery's hat trick was not enough for Duke Saturday.

Almost nothing, not even things as simple as passing and catching, went Duke’s way Saturday afternoon, as yet another ACC opponent showed how vulnerable the Blue Devils are. 

Tobacco Road rival North Carolina upset No. 5 Duke 10-8, sending the Blue Devils back to Durham with a second straight loss and questions on how to regroup and start winning again. 

“We’re not a very good team right now, I think it’s obvious to anybody who’s watched,” a visibly disappointed head coach John Danowski said. “We’ve got great kids, they really try really hard…. But we’re not a great lacrosse team.”

Duke’s troubles started when senior goalkeeper Turner Uppgren notched back-to-back saves, but failed his clear allowing North Carolina (7-3, 1-0 in the ACC) to get out to an early lead on a fast break goal. The Tar Heels won the next face off and immediately scored again, rattling the Blue Devils (8-3) who turned over the ball seven times in the first half, six of those errors unforced, and 14 overall. Duke’s sloppy play at the X and on offense did not put any pressure on North Carolina, which would have broke open the game in the first half had it not been for the Blue Devils staunch defense. 

“Defensively, we were solid,” Danowski said. “You hold a team to nine goals in D-1, it gives you a chance to win it.” 

Defensive anchor Uppgren did his best to keep his team in the game with his second straight game with double-digit saves in the cage. However, the fact that Duke’s offense could not take care of the ball or get good shots off did not give its defense much of a break, and the Tar Heels exploited that as much as they could.

The unranked Tar Heels entered halftime with 5-3 lead against Duke, and it seemed as though all of the momentum was on the home team’s side. The Blue Devils came out of the locker room to begin the third period with a game plan and hope that they could cut into North Carolina’s lead and play better in all facets in the game. That game plan was shattered however, as Tar Heel faceoff man Zachary Tucci won the battle at the X allowing Tar Heel attackman Nicky Solomon to score North Carolina’s sixth goal just 23 seconds into the second half.

This sequence of events seemed to wake up Duke’s offense somewhat, as it looked much more aggressive in its attack. Sophomore Nakeie Montgomery in particular—who went scoreless in the first half—appeared to be unguardable, earning a hat trick from three straight unassisted goals to give Duke the lead for the first time in the match. Danowski did not seem content with this third-quarter explosion, attributing the team’s success to Montgomery’s performance.

“It was nothing the team did or nothing that we did, it was individual effort,” Danowski said. “Offensively it’s been pretty anemic the past two weeks.”

The Blue Devils did not keep their lead for long, as North Carolina scored three unanswered goals to regain a two-goal advantage. Duke has struggled this season with lulls in energy, which has allowed opponents to get back into games or take leads late in the game.

“There really are no leaders in this group, they kind of all defer to each other,” Danowski said. “There really isn’t that alpha personality or that alpha athlete that we’ve had in the past.”

If the Blue Devils cannot find that one player to lean on in times of struggle, they will have difficulties playing even tougher teams like their upcoming battle against Notre Dame. It’s back to the drawing board for Danowski and his squad, and as the regular season comes to a close, Duke must figure it out sooner or later if it wants a run at the national championship.

“We’re not gonna give up,” Danowski said. “We’re gonna show up to practice on Monday and we’re gonna try to correct our mistakes.”

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