No dynasty lasts forever.
The young Duke squad, having graduated almost all of its significant contributors from its back-to-back championship run, lost to Ohio State 16-11 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The loss marks the end of an era – in coach John Danowski’s previous eight years at Duke, the Blue Devils advanced to eight Final Fours and won the last two national titles. But Saturday night Duke lost a home NCAA tournament game for the first time since 1995.
Maybe all the recent success caused the Blue Devils to lose their edge when the going got tough, Danowksi speculated after the game.
“You need to know that everybody comes after you when you’re on top,” he said. “We lost our hunger a little bit. Maybe somewhere along the way we thought it was going to be easier than it really was.”
Only two starters returned from last year’s team, and neither played defense. The Blue Devils’ defenders had a combined one career start between them entering the year, and the Buckeyes took advantage of the young unit all night.
Ohio State senior David Planning scored a career-high seven points, with six goals coming via underhanded shots. The offense as a whole was patient, not forcing shots and making the Duke defense move around. And then the Buckeyes won their one-on-one matchups with the Blue Devil defenders, hiding the ball and snapping quick shots from multiple angles.
The Buckeyes paced ahead in the second quarter, exposing all of Duke’s defensive inefficiencies by rolling off six unanswered goals, including two in the final 24 seconds of the half. A 2-1 Duke lead at the end of the first quarter was a 7-3 deficit by halftime, and the Blue Devils would never recover. It was a combination of ineffective close defense and goaltending, with not much going right for the Blue Devils. At that point, Danowski started to realize it wasn’t going to be Duke’s night – players weren’t talking on defense, body language wasn’t good, and the leader that the Blue Devils needed never appeared.
“They weren’t really doing anything that we didn’t think they were going to be doing,” senior long stick midfielder Brian Dailey said. “The two at the end kind of stunk.”
Offensively, Duke was sloppy, committing five turnovers (to four shots) in the 15-minute second quarter. The offense, which entered Saturday averaging 14.47 goals per game – fourth-best nationally – never found any flow. The 11 goals were Duke’s third-lowest output on the year. Sophomore Jack Bruckner led the Blue Devils with three goals. Tewaaraton Award finalist Myles Jones had just a goal and an assist (the national award goes to the top men’s lacrosse player). He missed some decent looks at the goal, Danowski said, which further deflated morale.
A change in goaltenders at the end of the third quarter, with the score 13-6, didn’t change Duke’s fate or slow Ohio State down. Goaltending has generally been a weak spot for the Blue Devils all year, and stick-side high saves that could have been made just weren’t.
The Buckeyes marched on, stunning Duke by handing the program its first first-round loss since 2001. Two late goals saved the Blue Devils from the most lopsided loss for a defending NCAA men’s lacrosse champion in its tournament opener (Virginia lost by six, 14-8, to Delaware in 2007).
“I said to the guys afterward, we just got beat,” Danowski said. “It was one game, and they beat you. And they beat us soundly.”