Following Duke’s 13-8 semifinal victory over Maryland, Blue Devil coach John Danowski was asked about some of his younger players stepping up in the postseason. As he often does, Danowski found the universal in the specific.
Just kids at this time of year making plays that lacrosse players do. You kind of put them in situations, but now it’s up to them,” Danowski said Saturday. “That’s the beauty of our game. The game happens very quickly, and that’s the fun. We call it the gray. There’s the black and white and Xs and Os, but the game is won in the gray.”
Duke appeared to play well in those gray areas in Monday’s 13-11 championship loss Yale. The Blue Devils turned the ball over less than Yale, split on face-offs 14-of-28, finished 16-for-17 on clears and went a productive 3-for-5 on extra man opportunities.
Look closer though, and the situational losses stand out. The Blue Devils lost the groundball battle 35-to-29. In the first half, they scooped just 10 groundballs compared to Yale’s 18, which factored in the Bulldogs’ early 4-1 run to start the game.
Also, despite splitting face-off victories, Duke finished 1-for-4 in the category in the crucial fourth quarter helping stymy a potential comeback run.
“[Yale was] winning face-offs, they had more possessions, and we weren’t picking up some of the groundballs that I think we would have liked to pick up,” Duke midfielder Brad Smith said. “I mean, it’s tough to play from behind against anybody. They were smart with the ball, and kind of took the air out of it a little bit.”
While Duke finished with 33 shots on the day, around their 36 shots per game average, they shot it just six times in the first and fourth quarters. Yale meanwhile was extremely efficient shooting Monday, going 3-for-11 in the first quarter, 3-for-10 in the second and an eye-popping six goals on just eight shots in the third.
“I thought that if you had said to me that we failed to clear one time, the face-offs went 50-50. We were 3-for-5 on man up, though we kind of botched that last man up a little bit. But if you had said to me that’s how the game was going to play out,” Danowski said. “But I thought that Yale shot the ball particularly well. We didn’t shoot the ball as well as we have been in the last couple weeks, and that just may have been the difference is that I thought they picked some corners and had some great individual efforts on their part.”
Yale also held some of Duke’s late-season offensive contributors in check.
Senior attackman and Tewaaraton finalist Justin Guterding finished with a solid one goal and two assists, and attackman Joey Manown and midfielder Kevin Quigley surprised with a combined five points in the game. But Smith, who was the team’s second-leading scorer, finished with just one goal. Freshman midfielder Nakeie Montgomery, who scored eight goals in the three previous NCAA Tournament games, also finished without taking a shot in Monday’s title game.
Duke entered 2018 ranked preseason No. 1 in Inside Lacrosse’s Face-Off Yearbook, and hung around the top five in the Cascade/Maverik Media Poll through 2018, finishing with 16-4 record. The team will lose Guterding, goalie Danny Fowler and a handful of other contributors, but eight of the ten’s top scorers and two of the team’s three top starting defense return for 2019.
“I was very proud of our kids. I knew they’d battle back. We’ve got great character,” Danowski said. “These are terrific young men to be around. But I knew we’d fight and continue. I really believed that we were going to make it 13-12 and we were going to face-off. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen this week, but I think the theme is we’re going to be back. When we do, this experience, we’ll draw from it.”