Duke Stops Big Red Machine to Make Title Tilt
|Duke spread the wealth on
offense, with nine different players scoring goals in a 16-14 win
over Cornell in Saturday's NCAA semifinals. Midfielder Jake
Tripucka finished with three goals and one assist.
© Lee Weissman
PHILADELPHIA — If their season was going to end on Saturday, the Duke Blue Devils were determined to prevent Cornell's lethal scoring combination of Rob Pannell and Steve Mock from being the reason it happened.
For nearly three quarters at Lincoln Financial Field in the NCAA tournament semifinal, Duke executed that defensive plan to near perfection, while stringing together one of its patented scoring runs to put Cornell on the verge of being blown out.
But after watching an eight-goal lead nearly slip away midway through the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils got a huge, late goal from senior midfielder David Lawson. Sophomore goalie Kyle Turri put the finishing touches on the best game of his young career, and Duke survived a furious Cornell comeback to escape with a 16-14 victory, before 28,444.
The victory puts the seventh-seeded Blue Devils (15-5) in Monday's championship game against top-seeded Syracuse (16-3). The Blue Devils, who are in their seventh consecutive final four under coach John Danowski, will go after their second title in school history, having won it all in 2010 — their only other appearance in the final under Danowski.
The Blue Devils needed a little bit of everything to hold off unseeded Cornell, which had won its first two playoff games by a combined 18 goals. Nine players scored for Duke, which was led by Jordan Wolf (four goals, one assist) and Case Matheis (1, 3) on attack and midfielders Jake Tripucka (3, 1) and Lawson (2, 2). Eleven of Duke's goals were assisted.
Defensively, the Blue Devils did enough to slow down the Pannell-Mock train that ran roughshod over Maryland and Ohio State in the tournament's first two rounds. Pannell finished his remarkable career — he became the all-time leading scorer in Division I history — with five goals and two assists. But Mock, who had scored 11 goals in the NCAA tournament and led the nation with 59 goals coming into Saturday, finished with only one goal and one assist.
It was a tag team defensive effort, starting with Turri, who recorded a career-high 16 saves and ran his record to 13-1. On close defense, Bill Conners denied Mock the ball inside all afternoon, while Henry Lobb knocked Pannell around early and limited his good scoring chances. Essentially, Duke turned Pannell and the Big Red into primarily a dodge-and-shoot offense. Pannell ended up taking 20 of the Big Red's 53 shots.
"We were going to try to limit [Pannell's] shots. We held him to 20," said Danowski with a smirk. "The plan was to shut off No. 6 [Mock] and not let those guys connect. Conners did not even get into a slide package. We really ran through ground balls. Kyle has been solid, but there's never been a time when he's been spectacular."
Turri, who took over in goal in early March, spread his 16 saves around evenly, making four stops in each quarter. When he wasn't being a thorn in Cornell's side by making a sparkling save, he was feasting on the Big Red's impatience and penchant for taking questionable shots — starting with Pannell, whose shot lacked zip and seemed to be limited physically somewhat after the first quarter.
"It took me a while to get settled in early on," Turri said. "But [Cornell] was getting a lot of low-angle shots. That helped. We knew we weren't going to shut [Pannell] off. We just had to stay calm and get to the next play."
"I got dinged up. It wasn't any one thing," said Pannell, the fifth-year senior who led a 16-senior class to Philadelphia. "It's been an incredible five years. I love Cornell lacrosse more than anything."
The Big Red, which was shooting for the school's first NCAA crown since 1977, scored seven, fourth-quarter goals to pull to within 15-14. But it wasn't enough to overcome a disastrous third quarter, during which Duke scored seven straight to take a commanding, 14-6 lead with 2:22 left in the period.
Or so it seemed. After Pannell took a Mock pass and finished an unsettled play to break a 15-minute scoring drought, Cornell got a breath of life to make it 14-7 at quarter's end. Then, after midfielders Max Van Bourgondien (two goals) and Connor Buczek (3, 1) scored to make it 14-9 with 10:34 left in the game, Danowski called timeout.
"I don't think people realize how hard it is to play with a 14-7 lead," Danowski said. "We would rather have saved [the timeouts]. But we wanted to settle the team."
The Big Red kept coming. Three more times they scored to cut it to 14-12. Pannell completed the run with back-to-back, unassisted scores. His last, which followed a bull dodge past Lobb from behind the net, came with 8:04 left. That gave him 354 points and passed former Duke and current Blue Devils assistant coach Matt Danowski.
But Duke stayed strong, and Lawson, who had five goals in last week's quarterfinal win over Notre Dame, buried an eight-yard shot after beating long-stick midfielder Shane Henry to make it 15-12 with 6:35 left.
With 3:10 left, when Turri made an easy save after a jump shot by Pannell, it seemed the air had gone out of Cornell. But the Big Red forced one of Duke's nine, fourth-quarter turnovers and made Duke pay, as Van Bourgondien scored with 1:31 left to make it 15-13. Then, with 52.9 seconds left, after Duke's last turnover, Buczek blew past Lawson and scored to cut the lead to 15-14.
Duke faceoff man Brendan Fowler won the ensuing faceoff. The Blue Devils called timeout. And after Cornell put senior goalie A.J. Fiore (10 saves) on attack to load up with seven defenders, Wolf beat the Big Red from up top and easily beat defenseman Jason Noble, who was guarding the cage and could not stop Wolf's fourth goal with 39 seconds left.
"It's an absolute heartbreaker," Cornell coach Ben DeLuca said. "That third quarter really dug us in a pretty deep hole, but I'm extremely proud of these young men for battling back."