“When guys want to be part of something special, that's why you come to Duke,” said head coach John Danowski.
Special is an understatement, especially this past weekend.
Duke men's basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski's final game in Cameron Indoor Stadium brought unseen buzz and attention to campus; spectators shelled out record amounts of money for tickets to the historic event and the students in attendance only got in after braving five weeks of sleepless nights and frigid temperatures. It was sure to be a show.
Before the storm just down the road that night, though, the men’s lacrosse team put on a show of its own.
Heading back to Durham on the back of two consecutive road games, then-No. 10 Duke came out firing against Richmond at Koskinen Stadium, strolling to a 14-8 victory. The Blue Devils were led by a pair of hat tricks from attackmen Brennan O’Neill and Joe Robertson and a strong performance in cage by goalie Mike Adler, whose 20 saves continuously kept his team comfortably in the lead.
If Duke has been good at one thing this year, it has been scoring goals. Bucketfuls of scoring from O'Neill have become perplexingly commonplace—it’s insane to get used to hat tricks—but Robertson has flown a bit under the radar, playing more as a facilitator and passer rather than an outright scorer. Of course, Robertson has scored plenty in his four years under Danowski, including a sudden-death dagger against North Carolina in 2021, but it felt as if Saturday was his re-introduction to goalscoring potency.
“It was just a product of everyone else being in the right spots,” said Robertson. “I was the benefactor of it but could have been anyone who scored these goals and [I’m] just lucky that they fell.”
Lucky or not, finishing opportunities is the difference between a good attackman and an OK one. Robertson took his opportunities on Saturday when he had them, and his team benefitted immeasurably from it. On a relatively down day for prolific junior attacker Dyson Williams and graduate student Sean Lulley, Robertson came off of the bench and grabbed his piece of the goalscoring pie, potentially making Danowski’s starting attack line decision even tougher.
On the opposite end of the field, Duke (7-2) continued to build chemistry on defense and put in a solid and stingy shift, and a big part of that was due to another stellar performance from Adler. The graduate student registered a season-high 20 saves and conceded just eight goals all afternoon.
“Sometimes, the goaltending is a function of really good team defense in front of [him],” said Danowski. “So you're not seeing shots that are contested, seeing shots from bad angles. And 20 saves is a function of really good team defense in front of him.”
Naturally, this new Duke backline is still figuring itself out, but there was plenty to be encouraged about beyond Adler’s ridiculous statline.
On the intangible end, one of the key takeaways from Saturday’s game was the noticeable uptick in hustle on defense and in the midfield. Junior longstick midfielder Tyler Carpenter stood out for this reason, as he once again played clean-up man with five ground balls and provided defensive solidity to an offensive-minded midfield that included graduate student Nakeie Montgomery and freshman Andrew McAdorey, both of whom have been in excellent scoring form of late and even saw their own shifts in the attacking trio.
Outside of Carpenter, the top moments of the game both belonged to defensive players. Adler produced a stunning bit of athleticism as he sprinted from net to dive for an errant shot in the first quarter, giving his team the inbound after an emphatic point from the sideline official. Freshman defender Jake Wilson had a similarly excellent moment in the second quarter as he ran from his half into the other, only to get pushed, lose his stick, pick it up with the ball still in it, spin past the defender and dump the ball to a teammate.
“Our guys played super hard,” said Robertson. “I think we always play hard. I think there was a lot of emotion coming out today. We've been challenged in practice, we want to get better. I think our week of practice and preparation was that same mentality and it transferred over to the field.”
After an overtime loss to Penn in Long Island, N.Y., and a testy victory at High Point, Duke needed a convincing win against Richmond (3-2). It’s too early to say that these Blue Devils are back to their best, but there was certainly enough in Saturday’s game to say that they might be.
Next, a weekend date with Loyola awaits Danowski and company for Duke’s penultimate nonconference game before the ACC gauntlet begins.
Fasten your seatbelts.
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