Duke's first round NCAA tournament game was marked by inconsistency and sloppiness.
According to the man responsible for the most wins in collegiate men's lacrosse history, that's just not going to fly if the Blue Devils want to bring home a title.
Second-seeded Duke scored four goals over 1:29 late in the second quarter to propel them to a 12-11 win against Richmond Sunday night at Koskinen Stadium. However, it was the Blue Devils' performance in the final quarter that nearly ended their season.
"We just did enough to win," head coach John Danowski emphasized. "We played miserably in the fourth quarter. You've got to tip your cap to Richmond, they beat us 4-0 [in the fourth quarter]. We failed to clear twice, we turned the ball over on the man up, and they did a great job."
Holding a 12-7 lead at the end of the third, and a 12-9 lead with a minute to play, Duke should have been in position to comfortably end the game. However, the Spiders never fully went away after big Blue Devil runs, and Richmond simply outworked their opponents over the final quarter, coming up short of pulling off the upset.
“I said to the guys in the huddle at the end of the three quarters that this had to be the best quarter of the game," Danowski said. "It turned out to be the worst quarter of the game. I can’t really explain that, but I do know it happened.”
It was an all-around scoring effort from Duke (12-4), as five different Blue Devils had at least two goals on the day. Sophomore midfielder Nakeie Montgomery recorded a hat trick with three goals to go along with two assists, and senior Brad Smith also contributed with five points. Goalie Turner Uppgren faltered after the long 15-day hiatus, stopping just seven of the Spiders' 19 shots on goal.
Richmond (10-7) and its zone defense proved stout from the opening face off, making Duke use most of the shot clock just to get a forced shot. Ryan Lanchbury, who came into the contest ranking eighth in the country in goals, scored two quick ones to open the game, but the Spiders coughed up the ball five times in the opening quarter, allowing Duke to stay in the game.
“We were forcing some deeper shots," Smith said. "We practiced it all week; we knew the zone was coming. We shouldn’t have been surprised by it, and we had a plan and we didn’t execute the way we wanted to.”
Smith would finally put the Blue Devils on the board with three minutes to play in the first quarter, cutting hard to his right and just sneaking the shot inside the left post. After the teams traded goals, Duke decided to show Richmond what they were missing.
Carpenter delivered two from straight-on and Manown would score his from right in front of the crease to give their team a three-goal lead. After connecting on just one of nine shots in the opening period, the Blue Devils made six of their next 10 shots, thanks to upperclassmen C.J. Carpenter and Joey Manown, who each had two goals over the run. However, the Spiders were not fazed and used a three-goal run of their own between the end of the first half and beginning of the second to tie the game. Junior midfielder Tyler Shoults led the team with a career-high five assists.
The Blue Devils, however, had one last run up their sleeves. Montgomery tallied two points and an assist in what was a 5-0 spurt for the home team during the third quarter. Through extra man opportunities and slick passing, Richmond regularly gave Duke open looks in front of the crease, and it seemed like no one was missing.
Richmond would not go down without a fight, and outscored the Blue Devils 4-0 in the fourth quarter. Tate Gallagher and Ryan Lee each scored in the final minute, but Duke's Joe Stein controlled the final face off, essentially clinching the win for the home team.
“I think definitely avoid playing not to lose," Smith said on how to avoid collapses in the future. "You play tight when you’re trying not to lose, and you’ve got to play to win. You’ve got 15 minutes left on your home field. You’ve just got to play with the desire that you want it to be the best 15 minutes of your season and for the seniors, in your career.”
Next up, Danowski and his team will travel to Hempstead, N.Y., and take on No. 7 seed Notre Dame, which beat Johns Hopkins Sunday 16-9, in a rematch from the ACC tournament. With a win, Duke would advance to its second straight Final Four, looking for its first NCAA championship since 2014.
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