Duke rode an early six-goal lead in the first 18 minutes of the contest to defeat Maryland, 13-8, in Saturday’s NCAA Semifinal game. The Blue Devils used that early lead to take control of the game and then proceeded to suffocate Maryland’s hopes of repeating as champions with long possessions and timely defensive stops.
Here’s how Duke won:
Push the Tempo
The key to beating Maryland is to play at a different speed that it does. So Duke ratcheted up its speedometer to the red line and unleashed team speed between the boxes to get past Maryland’s substitution-heavy set-up. Duke’s whip-quick clears were the key to their pace control. Duke’s poles had as much of a role in moving the ball up the field as Fowler did, especially Cade Van Raaphorst, who often found himself in the enviable position of making the first advancing look down the sideline opposite the box. Beating Maryland’s subs off the field and up the field allowed Duke to dictate the matchups. One of the missing aspects for the Terps was their ride, which did not contest enough of Duke’s long passes over the top or back to the keeper. It created big holes for the Duke midfield to romp through and made advancing the ball easy — which was decidedly out of character for Maryland.
Ride the Hot Hand
Nakeie Montgomery has been lights-out all tournament, shooting just under 50% and continually creating chances for himself with his dodging. Maryland chose to shortstick him for most of the first half and Montgomery made them pay for that decision by netting a hat trick. After that scintillating performance, the Terps switched their pole onto Montgomery, but it did not curtail his dodging. Instead, he turned into a first pass dodger, looking to get to space and move the ball across or down the field to an open midfielder to re-dodge or an attackman to spin the ball from X. Then Justin Guterding took over. Acting as both a dodger and a provider, Guterding ran into crowds of defenders and somehow came out unfazed multiple times. The Tewaaraton finalist had a hand in four of Duke’s final five goals, including an empty-net tally with just over a minute remaining.
Going into the game, Danny Fowler was averaging 9.25 saves per game in his last four contests and after this game, he has increased that number to just over 10 saves per game. He was outstanding here, making saves at key points to quell Maryland runs. His best stop came after Bubba Fairman scored to make it 8-7 with 8:05 to go in the third. The charging elephant of Maryland’s top-down attack was bearing down on the Duke netminder, but he answered the bell after Connor Kelly fired a shot in transition that Fowler stopped on sheer reflex and instinct. It was the biggest save of the game and reversed the momentum that Maryland had been building with their extended possessions. Fowler was especially strong when Maryland shooters went high to low with their shots. Of his 12 saves, five forced him to drop to his knees and control the rebound, which led to easy clears.
Great Defensive Adjustments
Duke’s high-pressure defensive scheme yielded completely positive results early on, as two of their first six goals were the result of a caused turnover. However, what started as fiercely applied one-on-one defense regressed into over pursuit and Maryland started to win their matchups and force full rotations with their ball movement. The Terps clawed their way back into the game in the third quarter because they were finally able to take advantage of the aggressive posture of Duke’s defense. Again, the Blue Devils pivoted and dropped into a more conventional formation, at one point even deigning to go into a soft zone to see which Terrapin would dodge and from where before snapping back into a more traditional man-to-man defense. Several fortuitous bounces ensured that the Blue Devil defense didn’t have to force the issue, as the majority of the action in the closing minutes took place on the other end of the field.