There weren’t many surer things in men’s college lacrosse for the last decade than Duke rising to the occasion in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals.
Until Saturday, anyway.
The Blue Devils never led in a 16-11 loss to third-seeded Ohio State at Shuart Stadium, ending a nine-game quarterfinal winning streak that stretched back to 2005.
“I thought our guys were tight,” coach John Danowski said. “But that’s not disparaging to Ohio State. They were terrific.”
Eric Fannell had five goals and two assists for the Buckeyes (15-4), who advanced to the semifinals for the first time in program history. Jack Bruckner had three goals and an assist in his final game with the Blue Devils (13-5).
As much as Duke controlled its first-round date against Johns Hopkins, Ohio State effectively did the same against the Blue Devils. Eight different Buckeyes scored, and Ohio State put 24 of its 31 shots on goal.
“We just lost individual battles, including me, including our defensemen – things we haven’t really done all year,” goalie Danny Fowler said.
The first quarter was exceptionally well played, with a pair of stout defenses settling in to stymie talented offensive talent. Duke controlled the bulk of possession in the period, but mustered only one goal against the Buckeyes’ miserly defense.
The final meaningful play of the quarter, however, proved ominous. Ohio State midfielder Lukas Buckley breezed past his defender and faced little resistance as he scored with eight seconds left in the period to make it 2-1.
“To me that was the beginning of the light bulb going off for them to say ‘Maybe we can run past these guys,’ ” Danowski said.
Ohio State did that plenty in the second quarter, building a 9-4 lead by the break. By the end of the third quarter, the Buckeyes were up 13-5 and well on their way to their first quarterfinal triumph in four tries.
And while Ohio State faceoff ace Jake Withers won 17 of his 28 attempts to get the better of Duke’s Kyle Rowe, the Blue Devils’ offense played a role in the postseason exit. They couldn’t solve Buckeye goalie Tom Carey (14 saves), and Bruckner and fellow attackman Joey Manown combined for just one shot in the first half.
Junior Justin Guterding had two goals and two assists, becoming only the second player in Duke history with 50 goals and 40 assists in a season. But he also struggled to make the most of his chances until the final quarter.
“Our scout all week was to shoot low on him, and most of our goals that went in were low,” Guterding said. “Myself included, we were stubborn and shot high and wanted to blow it by him, and it didn’t work. He’s a good goalie.”
Duke exited in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002, and did so in unexpected fashion. The 16 goals allowed were a season-high for the Blue Devils, who had won six of seven entering the day.
That made it hard to find much solace from a season that featured a postseason victory for the first time since Duke won the 2014 national title.
“It’s hard to say you’ve had a great season and made a lot of progress when this is how you perform on your last day,” Fowler said. “If you look at some of the things we did this year, they were definitely impressive and better than years past. But when you come out and this happens in your last game, it’s hard to say you did a great job.”