Saturday night, with Duke and North Carolina’s prestigious men’s basketball programs facing off in the Final Four, all eyes were fixed on New Orleans.
Just a few hours earlier, though, that same rivalry raged on back in Chapel Hill.
Then-No. 16 Duke cruised past then-No. 9 North Carolina 15-6 at Dorrance Field, riding a pair of signature performances from goalie Mike Adler and sophomore attacker Brennan O’Neill to a decisive win. The Blue Devils left no doubt, holding the Tar Heels scoreless until late in the first half and jumping out to a 5-1 lead at the break before O’Neill’s third-quarter onslaught secured Duke’s first ACC win of the season.
“It was just important for us to compete again,” Danowski said. “It was important for us to get back and play in a big-game atmosphere.”
It didn’t take long for O’Neill, who would finish with a career-high seven goals, to give the Blue Devils their early lead. After capitalizing on an extra-man opportunity with a straightaway rip for the first goal of the game, the sophomore scored again less than two minutes later, and by the opening moments of the second quarter, he had completed his hat trick before any player on either team had found the back of the net.
O’Neill struck again in the third quarter, combining with graduate midfielder Nakeie Montgomery to give Duke the burst it needed to pull away for good. Montgomery chipped in a hat trick that began with time running out in the first half and ended just past the halfway point of the third quarter, and O’Neill put together another hat trick in that third frame alone. By the time O’Neill scored off of the rebound for his sixth goal of the day, the Blue Devils were ahead 10-1 and well on their way to a road win in their rivals’ stadium.
That type of offensive efficiency has become commonplace for O’Neill, who now has scored six or more goals three times this season and ranks fourth in the ACC with 3.23 goals per game.
“He just had one of those days,” said Danowski. “Scored seven against a really fine goalie.”
For as excellent as O’Neill was Saturday, Adler was equally so, compiling 19 saves and holding the Tar Heels scoreless until under three minutes remained in the first half. By the end of the first frame, in which the graduate student recorded nine saves, the nature of his special day was already apparent. With just more than five minutes to play in the quarter, Adler made back-to-back saves at point-blank range.
Duke’s longtime last line of defense was its star in the early going, giving the offense—which, outside of O’Neill, didn’t come out of the gates roaring—time to build its lead. He yielded two goals in the first three quarters, rendering the fourth and final frame a formality, at best, by coming within one save of his season-high.
Sophomore goalie Collin Krieg had a prolific day for North Carolina as well, tallying a season-high 19 saves of his own to match Adler.
“Their goalie played really well as well. Their goalie made 19 saves, our goalie made 19 saves, both goalies,” Danowski said. “Certainly none of us expected it to be 2-0 at the end of the first quarter, 5-1 at half… seemed like both goalies were the two outstanding players, I thought, for both teams.”
Saturday’s win doubled as dominant defensive performance for Duke, which not only limited North Carolina’s scoring opportunities but managed to hold off Tar Heel star attacker Chris Gray, the ACC’s leader in points per game. Adler’s performance was a rare one, to be sure, but the Blue Devils made few mistakes in front of their own goal and seldom wasted opportunities to end North Carolina possessions.
It was an all-around defensive gem, with the Tar Heels netting just one truly meaningful goal before the game was put out of reach.
“Defensively, I thought the guys were very solid, in terms of connected,” said Danowski. “They played together, they understood where each person has to be, I thought they communicated well.”
“Clearing has been a struggle for us at times in this first part of the year, and we did a really good job clearing the ball,” Danowski added. “I thought that was really impressive.”
The rivalry win is no doubt a sweet one for Duke, but as the team’s first ACC win of the season, it is an important one regardless of the opponent. The Blue Devils faltered at Syracuse one week prior, raising the stakes for Saturday’s contest considerably. For Duke not only to win, but to win with such dominance, could prove to be a big boost as the team heads into the midst of its tough ACC schedule.
Duke is back in action this upcoming Saturday against No. 13 Notre Dame. After a four-game road spurt spanning nearly a month, the Blue Devils are set to return to Koskinen Stadium for the first time since March 5.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Danowski said of returning home. “It’s Alumni Weekend, if the weather breaks and we get decent weather we could have a really great crowd. Phenomenal opponent in Notre Dame, and I know the boys will be excited.”
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.