The difference between winning and losing in the current climate of college lacrosse isn't necessarily contingent on a talent gap. Rather, with competitive balance massaging its way throughout Division I lacrosse, execution -- in its myriad of forms -- often determines which team celebrates with a Gatorade bath and which team turns toward wind sprints as their way to forget. Duke's 12-11 victory over Notre Dame in the national quarterfinals -- a game played in Indianapolis, the Irish's backyard -- was an illustration of this atmosphere: Deadlocked on eight occasions -- at one, two, three, four, six, seven, eight, nine, and 11 -- and with neither team holding more than a two-goal advantage at any point of play (Duke held a 6-4 advantage with under five minutes remaining in the first half and Notre Dame held an 11-9 lead at the 9:29 mark of the fourth quarter), the little things ended up determining the outcome of the game.
- Kyle Turri's stone-cold stuff of Sean Rogers with 3:30 left to play in regulation -- Rogers had attacked from behind the cage, released high, and looked to have netted a banger that would have given the Irish a potentially insurmountable two-goal lead -- led directly to the game-tying goal from Josh Dionne on a helper from Jordan Wolf. Turri's stop -- one of his two credited saves on the afternoon -- was a big moment that created a transition opportunity for a Blue Devils team that looked to generate them all afternoon. Turri's counterpart, John Kemp, had kept Notre Dame in the game all day (Kemp ended up turning away about a third of the Irish's defensive opportunities), but it was Turri's stop in a moment where nobody expected him to make one that changed the outcome of the game.
- Notre Dame was more offensively and defensively efficient than Duke over the game's 60 minutes of play, but the Irish weren't exceptional enough at either end of the field to pull out the victory: (1) The Irish's turnover rate -- almost 60 percent of its offensive opportunities yielded a turnover (the team was especially dogged with unforced giveaways) -- washed away offensive possessions and opportunities to build a lead (Notre Dame clearing at only 78 percent was especially hurtful as the Irish lost offensive opportunities before they could even become functional; at the team's scoring rate, that's about 1.7 goals that Notre Dame didn't realize due to failed clears); and (2) The possession-deficit that the Irish played at -- minus-seven -- insulated Duke's defense from overexposure and allowed the Devils' offense (which was efficient only at a nationally average rate) the extra opportunities necessary to crack Kemp and Notre Dame's suffocating defense. Valuing the ball and maximizing opportunities are success drivers, and the Irish couldn't seem to hit the marks on either; Duke, in relative contrast, perfomed better in these areas.
- Duke managed to assert itself on groundballs, an important facet of play considering the rates that both the Devils and Irish were turning the ball over. In run-of-play situations, Duke held a groundball margin of plus-five on a 100-possession basis over Notre Dame. The Devils were simply better than the Irish on the ground, and the game's deciding possession -- out of a timeout, Westy Hopkins matriculated his way toward the middle of the hash marks, was stripped by Henry Lobb while trying to shoot, and after a scramble for the loose ball Chris Hipps came up with the bean and engaged Duke's clear -- was the heightened indication of that.
- With all those little things adding up, the imbalance between the two team's primary offensive generators on the day -- for Duke: David Lawson, Jordan Wolf, and Josh Dionne (combined for 12 points); for Notre Dame: Matt Kavanagh, Jim Marlatt, Conor Doyle, and Sean Rogers (combined for 16 points) -- ultimately evened out. Success isn't just big time players having big time games in big time moments; its superstars doing their thing with support from the totality of the team, the entirety of the playing roster putting together baseline performances that drive the outcome. It's like the line from Glory: "If this man should fall, who will lift the flag and carry on?"
- Competitiveness at the faceoff dot is an important aspect of play, but it is often the ensuing outcome of the possession that results from the faceoff win/loss that is most important. If the team that wins the faceoff scores on the immediate functional possession (ignoring faceoff wins that become turnovers before matriculation into the attack box), make-it-take-it momentum becomes a dominant theme in the game; if the team that lost the faceoff can generate a stop, possession advantage through faceoff wins is neutralized. With respect to Duke-Notre Dame, seven goals were scored on the possession directly resulting from a faceoff win; Duke held a four-to-three advantage in that department (incidentally, the Devils' game-winner came on the possession that followed a Brendan Fowler win at the dot). That facet of play wasn't the reason that Duke advanced to Championship Weekend, but it is part of the reason that Notre Dame wasn't able to punch its ticket to Philadelphia (in function, the Irish's inability to stop the Devils' possessions derived from faceoff victories exacerbated the Irish's overall possession deficit issues).
Here's a truncated tempo-free box score:
|Offensive Efficiency (per 100 Offensive Opportunities)||30.00||33.33|
|Shots per Offensive Opportunity||1.08||0.97|
|Offensive Shooting Percentage||27.91%||34.38%|
|Turnovers (per 100 Offensive Opportunities)||42.50||57.58|
|Caused Turnovers (per 100 Defensive Opportunities)||9.09||15.00|
|Unforced Turnovers (per 100 Offensive Opportunities)||27.50||48.48|
|Team Save Percentage||15.38%||52.00%|
|Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities||6.06||32.50|
|Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions||20.55||15.07|