The Blue Devils have finished undefeated in nonconference play for the first time in 26 years.
With some fans in the stands creating a sense of normalcy and 80 degree weather, No. 2 Duke cruised past Jacksonville 17-6 Sunday afternoon at D.B. Milne Field. After demolishing No. 19 High Point Wednesday night, the Blue Devils once again displayed their upward trajectory with a complete 60-minute effort.
“It was a continuation of Wednesday night,” head coach John Danowski said. “People were unselfish offensively, we were connected defensively. Committed a couple of penalties that we would have liked to have not made. I thought that we continued to see different formations, rides and clears. We’re learning how to adjust in-game, guys are developing chemistry with one another. So we’re continuing to have these new experiences together.”
Duke (8-0) has taken up a habit of forcing its opponents into long scoring droughts this year, often ripping away any glimmer of hope the other team had. The Dolphins cut their deficit to 5-2 with just under 13 minutes to play in the second quarter, but the Blue Devil defense dominated the next 26:01 minutes of gametime and held Jacksonville without a goal until deep into the third quarter. Duke held the ball for most of that span and extended its advantage to 16-2.
The Dolphins (3-3) are well-known for their aggressive style of play, but 6-foot-2, 230-pound freshman Brennan O’Neill handled it with ease. The No. 1 overall recruit netted his fourth hat trick of the season by scoring the Blue Devils’ first three goals of the game. O’Neill finished with five goals on the day, a trio of them assisted by graduate transfer Michael Sowers, who led Duke in scoring once again with one goal and six assists.
The highlight of the day came when Sowers found O’Neill cutting across the crease with an on-the-money pass, which the freshman tossed behind his back for the Blue Devils’ first goal of the second half.
“It’s a great experience for our guys because these next six games are going to be physical, they’re going to be tough,” Danowski said. “Certainly playing with poise, playing the right way and then putting the ball in the back of the net is the best answer when teams play physical with you defensively.”
Danowski’s squad certainly met expectations with its nonconference performances, including wins against three ranked teams. But this year the ACC is a different beast, with all five schools ranked in the top-nine of Inside Lacrosse's current media poll. The Blue Devils will face grueling matchups against the nation’s elite every week, including two against No. 1 North Carolina.
“Now we go back to playing in front of nobody, but playing some talented, experienced, well-prepared and well-coached teams who will be excited to play,” Danowski said. “It’s going to be a battle every week.”
After three games in eight days, Duke gets some time to rest and recover before opening ACC play March 25 at home against No. 5 Syracuse.
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