Maryland rallies with big second half to defeat Duke men's lacrosse in NCAA quarterfinals

<p>Dyson Williams' six goals were not enough for Duke.&nbsp;</p>

Dyson Williams' six goals were not enough for Duke. 

For Duke’s senior and super-senior class of Brennan O’Neill, Dyson Williams, Kenny Brower and Jake Naso, Saturday’s NCAA quarterfinal offered the opportunity to avenge last year’s postseason heartbreak and take another shot at the Final Four. Except this time, it had the condition that the college careers of 25 players — two of whom sit in the NCAA all-time top five in goals — would end with a loss.

For three quarters, the path to Philadelphia seemed clear and rosy. A crazy turnover advantage made a Maryland comeback feel near impossible after an 8-5 first-half lead. A six-goal day from Williams and an O’Neill hat trick usually indicate a win. But lacrosse is a game of runs, and as the second-seeded Blue Devils got heavy legs down the lane, No. 7-seed Maryland sped ahead, shocking Duke 14-11 on Long Island.

"The kids are crushed," head coach John Danowski said postgame. "We have 19 kids who have been in the program for four or five years, pandemic with the extra year, and they came back to earn a masters degree ... but they came back to play lacrosse. They came back to play next weekend, and to be together for another week."

The primary culprit was a dismal performance at the spot. Naso — the senior FOGO still tender from a leg injury that sidelined him for bits of the conference season — was completely overwhelmed by Luke Wierman, forcing Duke to find a way to score without a faceoff advantage (in fact, a 20-9 disadvantage). Wierman, not coincidentally, was Maryland’s most potent offensive threat, punching a couple past Jameison in the first half alongside his ability to catalyze his team’s attack by handing it possession more than two-thirds of the time.

"In terms of momentum and how it feels, the intangibles ... they outplayed us there," Danowski said of the faceoffs. "They outplayed us in the goal, they outplayed us on the ground, they were the better team today."

This cataclysmic deficit at faceoff overrode Duke’s overwhelming 16-9 advantage in turnovers. Maryland grabbed crucial goals late in the third quarter and one quick in the fourth to cut the game to one for the first time since sophomore midfielder Charles Balsamo’s curtain-raiser, before an out-of-bounds call behind the Terrapins’ cage allowed Maryland to level it up and then take a shock 10-9 lead.

"We failed to clear several times, gave them extra possessions, played a lot of defense," Danowski said.

Williams was the hero for the Blue Devils when they needed one, too, beating the shot clock to wipe Maryland’s surprise advantage with his sixth goal. The Terrapins responded again, and O’Neill answered by dropping his defender with a lethal left-handed shot fake, before powering it with his off hand past the goaltender for 11-11. A couple clutch goals by Maryland — including a brutal one given after video review — sealed the deal, though, denying the Blue Devils another shot at Championship Weekend.

That didn’t seem likely given how the opening half went. 

With under a minute to go in the first quarter, Maryland carried the ball up the field looking to close the gap, but instead scuffed a pass straight into the eager cradle of Jake Caputo. The Blue Devil midfielder trotted upfield and stalled to burn some time before finding Aidan Danenza wide open on the alley. The senior eyed the defense and spun it to a closely guarded Williams on the circle, who caught it with his left hand and dunked the ball into the net behind his back and around the world.

Postseason games are often defined by how well each team’s headliners match up against the other’s. Last year, that was Notre Dame’s Liam Entenmann against O’Neill and Penn State’s TJ Malone against Brower, respectively. On Saturday, that should have been O’Neill against All-American defender Ajax Zappitello, but the Terrapins opted to hitch their long pole to Josh Zawada instead.

The results in the first half were … mixed. Zawada — save a first-half assist on Williams’ wondergoal — was limited in his impact from the X, but that extra attention from Zappitello left O’Neill, Williams and the Blue Devil offensive midfield with a small country’s worth of room to work.

Duke took advantage of this mismatch almost immediately. Following a forced turnover from graduate LSM Will Frisoli, freshman goalie Patrick Jameison hurled the ball upfield to find the stick of Balsamo. The Chaminade product worked some space about 15 yards out and with an eye to goal unleashed a low bouncer for the game’s opening score. A few minutes later, O’Neill dusted his man and ripped one on the run across his body and into the ground to give Duke an early 2-0 lead.

Blink, and a near-identical O’Neill line drive thundered through the Terrapin defense to give Duke its fourth goal of the first quarter, shortly removed from a Williams quick-stick on the doorstep. The Blue Devils were in complete control 5-1, despite having 45 more minutes of lacrosse to play.

The Terrapins responded with a couple quick scores after the second quarter began to inject some jeopardy, but Williams and Sloat answered right away with a goal each while Jameison made a catalog of impressive saves in net, including one to deny a Maryland man-up. The Terrapins made some ground back as the period wore on, but a similar sequence to that brutal Williams two-goal swing in the first quarter reared its head once more.

This time, it was a second Tyler Carpenter yard sale that did the trick, followed by another composed Williams finish. Duke took an 8-5 lead into the halftime break — a lead the Terrapins steadily chipped away.

As the offseason looms, the Blue Devils have plenty of rebuilding to do. All three of its starting attack line including the reigning Tewaaraton Award winner, its starting FOGO, first-team All-American defender and linchpin long-stick midfielder — alongside a deep pocket of role-players — are all gone. 

"This is one of the most high-character groups I've ever been around," Danowski said. "[The loss] doesn't define them. They're disappointed and they're hurting today, as we all are, and we're hurting not because we lost the game, but because the relationship kinda ends right now, or transitions to something else." 

More than that, Duke’s quest for a fourth national title and first since 2014 eludes it for another agonizing season, with its most talented team in years stopped short yet again.

Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Recruitment/Social Chair

Andrew Long is a Trinity senior and recruitment/social chair of The Chronicle's 120th volume. He was previously sports editor for Volume 119.


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