SOUTH BEND, IND.—He did it again. Somehow, someway, he did it again.
Mr. Overtime, Broadway Joe, whatever you want to call him. But at this point, Joe Robertson deserves a nickname.
Because when he wrapped around the goal and bounced in the sudden-death overtime score Sunday in South Bend, Ind., sending No. 2-seed Duke past Loyola 10-9 and into the Final Four, it wasn’t his first game-winner. This is now Robertson’s third overtime game-winner this season, after he knocked off North Carolina and Virginia the same way in the regular season.
“When the game’s on the line, that’s my favorite part of the game,” Robertson said on what fuels him to step up in these big moments. “It’s what really makes it exciting. I think that’s why athletes compete, because you have a chance to lose. So when the game’s on the line, it makes it that much more fun. You’ll be more upset that you didn’t take a shot than if you missed a shot or if they saved it, so I was just trying to get a shot in and just thankful that it went in.”
Head coach John Danowski also spoke on how the moxie of his senior captain has developed.
“That's from him,” Danowski said. “His family, perhaps, being a younger brother, having a couple older brothers and getting knocked around at home in the backyard or in the basement or wherever those guys played. I think Joe's point is well-taken. He said he learned against Virginia a couple of years ago that you're going to regret the shots that you don't take more than the shots that you do. We always say in the huddle before overtime, the way you play overtime, is there are no regrets. You cannot think, you cannot question yourself—you've got to play with no regrets. And I think that Joe really takes it to heart.”
With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, however, it looked like Duke’s season was in serious danger of a shocking conclusion.
Loyola attackman Kevin Lindley notched in a point-blank goal to put the Greyhounds up 9-8, with Loyola winning the ensuing faceoff as well. But Blue Devil defenseman Kenny Brower forced the clutch turnover, and midfielder Jake Caputo picked up the groundball and passed it off to a wide open Michael Sowers in front of the goal.
Then, Greyhound defenseman Cam Wyers promptly hooked Sowers to the ground by his neck, receiving a one-minute unnecessary roughness penalty in the process—much to the chagrin of the Duke parents, who wanted a two-minute penalty—and giving the Blue Devils a man-up opportunity.
Duke made sure to take advantage.
Less than 30 seconds into the penalty, Sowers found freshman Brennan O’Neill on the wing, with O’Neill slinging in the goal to tie up the score at nine with 1:09 remaining. Sowers’ assist gave him his 381st career point, passing (coincidentally) former Loyola great and 2019 Tewaaraton winner Pat Spencer for second on the NCAA’s all-time points list.
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In the end, O’Neill finished with a game-high four goals and five points on the day, with Sowers and Robertson following suit with four points apiece (three assists and one goal for the former, three goals and one assist for the latter).
“I think we drill a lot of these situations in practice, next goal wins, game to one,” Robertson said. “And so guys feel pretty comfortable in making these plays and playing in these high-pressure situations. And I think, it's not just me who enjoys these situations. Obviously you like to win by more, but there's something about this team that thrives in these kinds of situations and I think you saw it, not only offensively, but defensively as well, and at the faceoff X. And so I think the message was just believing in our preparation and our team and believe in each other. And I think that's what we did and got a win as a unit.”
From the start, it looked like it was going to be a defensive battle, one in which the first team to double-digit goals would win. Duke trailed 3-2 at the end of the first quarter and led just 5-3 at halftime, with much of the contest resembling No. 1-seed North Carolina’s overtime win Saturday.
Hence, there were some impressive defensive performances as well, including sophomore LSM Tyler Carpenter. The third-team All-American picked up five ground balls on the day, with the most important being his last.
After Duke failed to score on the first overtime possession, Loyola set up its offense on the other end of the field with a chance to win the game. The Greyhounds passed around the outside, with each pass and catch potentially representing the end of the Blue Devils’ season.
Then, out of nowhere, Carpenter poked one of those passes away in midair, tracked down the ground ball and converted the clear. Robertson ended the game less than a minute of game time later.
“Tyler had five ground balls, couple of huge ground balls in the defensive end, on the wings, on faceoffs…. Tyler, that's something he's done all year,” Danowski said. “And he ended up with an assist as well during the game. So Tyler is just getting better. He's still one of those hybrid sophomores that didn't play—he only had half a season as a freshman. And all these big games, he's building a tremendous experience.”
Now, Duke moves on to Championship Weekend in East Hartford, Conn., where it’ll play No. 3-seed Maryland in the NCAA semifinals next Saturday.
“It means so much to everyone on the team,” Robertson said of making it to Championship Weekend. “I think with how last year played out with COVID, and the cancelled season, and having that really long break for the guys, the fifth-years who came back, put in all the work this year, it feels really, really good to to be having one more week and to really capitalize on all the opportunities that we have together as a team and as a group. And so I think being able to just be with the guys for one more week, and hopefully, kind of keep this rolling, then it's great. That’s the best part about it.”