It was never going to be as easy as it looked when Duke scored the first six goals in Saturday’s NCAA tournament semifinal against Maryland.
The Terrapins, the defending national champions, eventually winnowed the deficit to a goal. And Blue Devil attackman Justin Guterding was getting antsy as his first — and last — trip to the biggest stage in college lacrosse was starting to slip away.
“There was a point where the game got a little tight, and I felt like I needed to kind of take over, and that wasn’t the way we were playing in the first half,” Guterding said. “[Assistant coach] Matt Danowski came up to me and said, ‘Remember, it’s Duke versus Maryland, not you versus Maryland.’"
Duke eventually dispatched the top-seeded Terps 13-8 to advance to Monday’s national title game against third-seeded Yale. Guterding played a prominent role in putting the fourth-seeded Blue Devils (16-3) within a victory of their fourth national title since 2010, providing three goals and three assists.
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All of those championships came before Guterding arrived on campus, and the senior has made little secret that he came to Duke to earn a victory on Memorial Day.
He is Duke’s career scoring leader with 210 goals, ranks second in career points (348, five shy of Danowski) and third in assists (138). He set the school record for points in a season earlier this month and now has 110 entering the final game of the season.
The latter mark was previously held by Jordan Wolf, whom Guterding succeeded as a starting attackman. Wolf also closed his career with back-to-back titles.
“Justin wants to win,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “The great ones, the thoroughbreds that we’ve been allowed to coach, they all have that in them. They have this drive and this belief that they can get it done. Every once in a while they have to be refocused a little bit. But at the end of the day, they want to win.”
That much was clear in the second half. After Maryland (14-4) closed within 8-7, Guterding jammed a pass on to freshman Joe Robertson, who scored with the shot clock about to expire. Then he repeated the feat early in the fourth quarter to make it 11-7.
Guterding would score Duke’s final two goals to seal the program’s sixth trip to the national title game since 2005.
“He has kind of everything you need,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “He’s got a great motor. He can finish. He can feed. He’s got a good feel for the game, and with his instincts, it’s kind of like he’s a play ahead. Because he’s so multidimensional and can do so many things, he can really hurt you.”
The attention Guterding demands creates opportunities for teammates as well. Robertson finished with three goals. So did freshman midfielder Nakeie Montgomery, who has scored eight goals in three NCAA tournament games after delivering six goals in the 15-game regular season.
Duke also got three goals from its second midfield line, an immense boost off the bench.
But for this team, Guterding is the offensive centerpiece. He’s a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, which is presented to the top player in the country.
A triumph over Yale could very well clinch the honor for Guterding. The chance to take a victory lap with a national title trophy is more important, though, which is why he hopes there’s no need for Matt Danowski to provide another in-game reminder.
“He’s done that to me in the past, and there was a couple minute stretch where I turned it over or really wasn’t playing team offense,” Guterding said. “That’s on me, but other than that, I thought we played for 57 minutes as a team. The other three minutes is on me, and I have to do a better job of that on Monday.”