All eyes may have been on the second-to-last men’s basketball home game of the Krzyzewski era, but perhaps they should–at least momentarily–have been turned a couple hundred yards away from Cameron Indoor Stadium to recognize the absolute masterclass put on by Duke on this beautiful late-winter day in Durham.
After a neck-and-neck first 15 minutes, the seventh-ranked Blue Devils purred like a well-oiled engine to pummel No. 11 Denver 19-10 at Koskinen Stadium. This Duke team has been a fixture that perennially oozes goals and puts out last-minute heroics to break late-game deadlocks, but Saturday’s showing was an anomaly and one that illustrated, again, just how much talent the Blue Devils have at their disposal.
Headlining this talent and pulling the strings of their team’s win were two names you’ll hear a whole lot this season: Brennan O’Neill and Dyson Williams. The pair combined for eight goals and four assists Saturday and terrorized the Denver defense throughout. O’Neill nailed a couple supremely difficult shots into the bottom left from curls behind the goal, leaving the Pioneers’ goalie completely helpless each time. He bullied the long-poles given the unenviable task of guarding him with his explosive speed and physicality and was rewarded with four goals and his third hat trick of the season.
“[O’Neill]'s got a terrific release,” said head coach John Danowski. “He protects the stick very well and really did a great job shooting today. Brennan can never shoot enough for us.”
Though the sophomore was characteristically lethal and continues to live up to the hype that comes with being a No. 1 recruit, it was arguably an even more impressive performance from Williams. The junior attackman is averaging at least three goals every game and has scored four goals on three occasions, today included. For a player that spent a substantial amount of his minutes in midfield last season, his ruthlessness in attack has been somewhat surprising, yet immensely exciting, for Blue Devil fans.
“We're just playing the offense,” said Williams. “I think the guys that I'm playing with on the field, we're starting to gain a lot of chemistry and we're really realizing our identity. I think that everyone's finding the back of the net and I think it's one of those things that we all work together, that we’ll get the job done no matter who's putting in the back of the net.”
Williams’ third goal and the sealer of his fifth-consecutive hat trick was a beautiful team play late in the second quarter that saw practically every midfielder and attackman on the field take their turn with the rock. The ball fizzed from quick-stick pass to quick-stick pass before eventually finding attackmanSean Lulley, who in turn crossed it to Williams for a powerful put-in.
“I thought the guys were incredibly unselfish in terms of what we call singles–hitting singles, not necessarily trying to hit the home run, trying to make the through pass, trying to thread the needle, just make the simple pass and let the athleticism take over,” said Danowski. “I thought that [Williams] was a recipient. That goal, he was a recipient of that.”
Danowski is spot on. The biggest strength of the Blue Devils (4-1) Saturday afternoon wasn’t just their star players but the immense shift put in by everybody on the field, from the typically outstanding goalkeeping efforts of Mike Adler to shut up shop, to the marshaling defensive efforts of Kenny Brower and Wilson Stephenson, to the industrious and relentless running of Tyler Carpenter and Nakeie Montgomery in midfield.
Perhaps nowhere was this better illustrated than in a late-first-quarter play when Adler chased a ball nearly out of bounds and Duke’s defenders swarmed the Denver attackmen to prevent an open net goal. They then took the ball and hucked it toward midfield, where it eventually found attackman Joe Robertson just off the crease, who dumped it to Williams for the latter’s first goal of the day.
Aside from the opening period that saw each side score five goals, the Blue Devils’ defensive efforts on the day were immaculate: They held the Pioneers (2-1) to a single goal in the second quarter and two each in the third and fourth. Part of this can, naturally, be attributed to the cushion offered by Williams, Montgomery and O’Neill’s hat tricks, but the backline was incredible for Duke and stymied a Denver attack that had scored at least 13 goals in its previous two games.
It was a welcome and convincing rebound following last week’s close home loss to Jacksonville, and one that will place this loaded Blue Devil team back into the limelight.
“The guys were anxious to prove that last Sunday was not them,” said Danowski. “Sometimes you get beat and you tip your cap to your opponent. But sometimes, if you don't play the level that you know that you're capable of, you're angry with yourself. I thought we were a little angry all week of practice. And that was helpful for today.”
It’s a second ranked win for Danowski’s Blue Devils, who will look for a third this Tuesday as they take on No. 17 Delaware at home.
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