Duke’s season ends in first round of NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament

Turnovers haunted the Duke lacrosse team all year, right up until a second consecutive early exit from the NCAA tournament.

The Blue Devils had 19 giveaways in a 16-11 loss at seventh-seeded Loyola in Saturday’s first-round game at the Ridley Athletic Complex.

Jack Bruckner scored six goals – all in the first half – to lead Duke (11-8), which spotted Loyola the first three goals and was never able to fully erase the deficit. Midfielders Deemer Class and Myles Jones – the centerpieces of the Blue Devils’ offense and key pieces of national title teams in 2013 and 2014 – combined to shoot 1-for-15 in their final game.

“We have eight losses,” coach John Danowski said. “We were a good team, not a great team. I think the struggle we had as coaches was trying to get guys to play a certain way. Every team is different. Every team has their own personality and their individuals. Some years you get to kids and they’re with you and some years it’s a little bit more of a struggle.”

The Greyhounds (13-3), who avenged a 15-6 loss to Duke on March 12, will meet either second-seeded Denver or Towson in the quarterfinals next Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.

Duke made eight consecutive trips to the semifinals to open Danowski’s tenure before falling to Ohio State in the first round at home last year. This time, the Blue Devils were sent on the road and struggled against a Loyola bunch that got six goals from Zach Herreweyers and three goals and five assists from Pat Spencer.

The setback reflected Duke’s season-long problems with fundamentals. The Blue Devils averaged 14.8 turnovers in the regular season, ranking 52nd out of 68 qualifying teams nationally in taking care of the ball. It was a striking look from a program known for handling the basics.

“They capitalized on the turnovers that we made,” Jones said. “It was tough. They were sliding quickly and double-teaming us and we weren’t really communicating with each other (enough) to put us in a position to succeed.”

Jones struggled to deal with Loyola long pole Ryan Fournier, who helped force the midfielder into six turnovers. The Greyhounds consistently pressed out on Jones, denying him the chance to leverage his size and strength into scoring chances.

But Jones, who had three assists, wasn’t the only Blue Devil enduring a tough day. Class had a goal and two assists, and sophomore attackman Justin Guterding didn’t score until the final four minutes.

“They were very aggressive when he had the ball,” Danowski said. “I think not only Myles, but our offense in general held the ball a little too much. I think we felt if we had possession of the ball, we were going to score. I don’t think anybody didn’t feel that way. I think we held the ball a little too much and there was a matter of guys of wanting to make plays so desperately.”

Loyola largely did as it pleased against a Duke defense that was slow to slide, but Blue Devil faceoff ace Kyle Rowe’s 23 of 31 day at the X provided some hope even with a 12-9 deficit entering the final period. But Herreweyers zipped in a shot off the opening faceoff of the fourth quarter and Duke never got any closer.

That brought a sour end to Jones’ career, which ends with 231 points – the second most for a midfielder in Division I history.

“I think the toughest part is not being with those guys anymore,” Jones said. “We had success freshman and sophomore year, but I think it sucks to have the best four years of your life come to an end after losing today.”