Duke Stays Calm Amid the Storm, Beats Loyola in 2OT
|Jordan Wolf tied the game at 9
less than three minutes into the fourth quarter during Duke and
Loyola's instant classic Sunday night in Durham, N.C.
© Peyton Williams
DURHAM, N.C. — When seventh-seeded Duke fell behind by five to Loyola in the an NCAA tournament first-round matchup on Sunday, it seemed the Blue Devils had cause for alarm.
But Duke had been there before.
Against North Carolina in the ACC tournament, Duke rallied from a nine-goal deficit to take the lead before falling by a single goal. And despite a 2-4 start to the season, the Blue Devils managed to win nine-straight games in the second half of the schedule.
A five-goal first-half deficit was no more formidable for Duke than the road that had led it to a No. 7 seed, and it certainly wasn't enough to keep the Blue Devils from a 12-11, double-overtime win to advance to a NCAA quarterfinal game against No. 2 Notre Dame.
"The weeks leading up to the Notre Dame and Maryland [losses], we were delighted with our practice and our effort early in the season," Duke coach John Danowski said. "But we didn't play well. But you've got all those games on your schedule, and you've got to keep showing up. Hopefully you get better."
When unseeded Loyola opened up a 7-2 lead, Duke's players had to adopt a similar attitude as they prepared to begin the second half after an unexpectedly difficult first two quarters.
"It was a really dysfunctional first quarter for us," Danowski said. "We try to practice every kind of situation, but we were in situations we hadn't even thought of."
Duke was at one point two men down on defense in the first quarter, and turned the ball over 10 times in the first half — effectively negating Brendan Fowler's 10 first-half faceoff victories.
Meanwhile, six different players scored for Loyola before halftime. But two quick goals from Josh Dionne and David Lawson in the final two minutes of the second period brought Duke back within striking distance at 7-4.
At halftime, major adjustments could have been expected. But as it has been all season, Duke's plan needed to be no more dramatic than to continue trusting that if its players kept doing the same things, but better, it would be enough.
"It's nothing crazy or special or out-of-the-box that we do," said freshman Case Matheis, who scored the game-winning goal in the second overtime. "Everyone's pretty calm on the sideline. We're all very relaxed and knew if we took care of what we needed to do, we would be successful."
One change, though: Duke's defense began pressuring higher in the second half, and it managed to take advantage of the increased fluidity and tempo that tactic created.
"That second half, they started to press out a little bit more," said Loyola's Justin Ward, who recorded five assists. "In the first half we were able to dictate the tempo where we wanted to dodge, things like that. So when they started to press out a little bit more it threw us off our tempo, and it took us a little longer to get into sets."
The Blue Devils peppered Loyola goalkeeper Jack Runkel with 39 shots after halftime while allowing only 16 from the Greyhounds. Though Runkel made a career-high 22 saves, including three critical stops in the overtimes, the sheer volume of Duke's attack was too much for even him to handle.
Duke outscored Loyola 4-1 in the third quarter, and Jordan Wolf tied the score at 9 with 12:16 left in the fourth during a run that saw Duke score six of the game's seven goals over a 14-minute span. The Blue Devils then kept pace with an even 3-3 fourth, and the teams traded goals in the final five minutes. For Duke, it was Matheis who scored the tying goal with 1:05 to play.
What followed was, in retrospect, heartbreaking for Loyola. Blake Burkhart won the faceoff and took the ball all the way to Duke's cage for a goal. But an instant before he fired, the whistle blew. Loyola coach Charley Toomey had called timeout.
"We said in the huddle that if we get in the box we are going to call an immediate timeout," Toomey said. "They probably let the play go a little bit longer because I was on the field the second [Pontrello] was in the box. But those are the things you live with."
The first overtime came and went with no goals. Duke took four shots, and Runkel saved two.
In the second overtime, Runkel saved Duke's first shot, but the Greyhounds struggled to clear the ball upfield. A battle for possession ensued, and Matheis eventually emerged in Loyola's defensive third with a clear path to the goal. He fired a shot near-side over Runkel's left shoulder from close range and the game was over.
The 61 total shots Duke took weren't all well-advised or on target. But they echoed the philosophy that has now led the Blue Devils back to the national quarterfinals: keep showing up and coming back for more, and sooner or later, things will work themselves out.
"When we lose, we're so overly critical of ourselves, and we question anything we do — whether we're wearing the right color sneakers for practice," Danowski said. "It gets that crazy. For us, it was just coming to work every day, believing in our players, believing in our teaching and believing that we would see the results come game day."