DURHAM — After sophomore midfielder Myles Jones enjoyed a career day against Air Force during Dukes 20-9 victory in the opening round of the mens NCAA lacrosse tournament, Falcons coach Eric Seremet broke down how that happened.
The first reason was obvious at first glance.
Well, he is a quite large human, Seremet said.
At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Jones was visibly the biggest player on the field (Duke coach John Danowski said, partially in jest: I guess at the Air Force Academy, to fit in those jets you can only be a certain size). Early on, the Falcons were too slow on their defensive slides on Jones, and he scored two of Dukes first four goals. Eventually, the Falcons switched a pole on him, but that created another problem.
Duke is a very good lacrosse team. You cant focus all of your energy on one person, Seremet said. They move the ball well, they move the ball quickly, theyre pretty slick. You dont just pick one guy to focus your energy on. Duke can attack you from a lot of different angles and with a lot of different people.
Three Blue Devils Jones, Case Matheis and Jordan Wolf recorded a hat trick. Five others put in two goals. And thanks to a 7-0 run during the second quarter, the competitive portion of the game was over before halftime Duke, the top overall seed, took a 12-3 lead into the break.
Air Force switched its defense from man-to-man into zone, and back again, in attempt to find something, anything, that could take the Duke offense out of rhythm. That was tough to do, though, since the Blue Devils constantly had possession of the ball faceoff man Brendan Fowler won 12 of his 16 first-half faceoffs. Duke tried to emphasize moving the ball on offense, making the extra pass guys constantly were calling, One more, as in one more pass which led to high-percentage shots.
All three of Matheis goals came off of assists from Jones, as the midfielder found the attackman cutting to the crease in rhythm.
Jones finished with a career-high eight points, with three goals and five assists.
A ton of it is confidence, Jones cited as the cause of his improvement. As a freshman, youre kind of tense and tight, you dont want to make mistakes in your first go-around in the playoffs. Its hard to be mentally focused, not trying to mess up. As a sophomore, just being here, being there last year, its just a new world for me. The game moves a lot slower now. Im able to just see the game a lot better.
The increase in confidence, along with his natural athleticism and the development of his stick skills and vision, have made Jones a vital piece of the Duke offense, one of the best attacks in the country. While he stopped short of saying the Blue Devils could outscore anyone, Matheis made it clear that the unit likes its chances against any opponent.
Were really confident, Matheis said. If you look at the midway point of the season when we played Syracuse and Harvard, our offense was pretty much unstoppable.
For the Falcons, just making the field was an accomplishment. Air Force (11-6) had only made two previous trips to the NCAA tournament and none since 1988. The programs existence was threatened last fall with the government shutdown and proposed budget cuts, but it recorded its first winning season since 1997.
Up next for Duke, the reigning national champions, is a trip to Newark, Del., to face Johns Hopkins (11-4) in the quarterfinals Sunday. A win in that matchup, against what Danowski called one of the most fabled programs in the history of the sport, would continue Dukes seven-year streak of advancing to the Final Four.