Duke earned their third title in five seasons -- and second in a row -- in an 11-9 victory over Notre Dame in the national championship game of the NCAA Tournament at M&T Bank Stadium. The Devils built a six-goal lead midway through the third period and managed to withstand a steady Notre Dame rally to secure the win. Duke finishes the season with a 17-3 record -- the most wins in Division I in 2014 -- while the Irish close the year with a 12-6 record and the rights to this season's ACC Tournament championship.
The shape of the game seemed to change when Sergio Perkovic -- a mere freshman -- scored the second of his five goals on the day. Facing an 8-2 deficit with 21:40 remaining in regulation, Notre Dame won a faceoff to create the possession in which Perkovic was able to create some room and ram home an unassisted tally. The bucket -- coming 4:49 after Perkovic's first -- seemed to change the tenor of the game: Despite playing in a four-possession deficit, the Irish leveraged their third goal into a pragmatic surge that brought Notre Dame within one -- 8-9 -- with exactly five minutes left in the game.
That push did not seem possible in the first half and the early stages of the third quarter. Facing a Duke defense that refused to yield, the Irish spent most of the game's first 30 minutes aiming nuclear weapons at their foot, painting the target hot, and pulling the trigger without concern for personal harm. On Notre Dame's 14 offensive opportunities prior to the intermission the Irish committed 11 turnovers (three were caused), a rate of giveaways -- 78.57 percent -- that all but erased Notre Dame's ability to functionally compete in the first two periods. Had Conor Kelly not made six saves in the first two frames, Duke could have built an insurmountable lead, instead accepting a 5-1 edge as the teams headed to the locker room. (The Devils scored on 29.41 percent of their first half offensive possessions while the Irish scored on 7.14 percent of their first half offensive possessions, a horrifically disastrous mark.)
The second half mirrored the volition of the first half: With the ball in an extra-man posture due to Notre Dame falling offsides just before the break (Myles Jones trucked John Scioscia into an offsides position), Kyle Keenan quickly turned a Jack Bruckner helper into a goal only 17 seconds into the third period. Perkovic's first bucket would following about five minutes after Keenan's goal, but consecutive tallies from the Blue Devils in a 1:20 stretch -- the first from Thomas Zenker on a Jordan Wolf feed; the second from Myles Jones on a Wolf helper -- gave Duke a commanding 8-2 advantage. The Irish, though, deconstructed its issues and suddenly found the spark of life.
Scoring six of the game's next seven goals, Notre Dame turned its six-goal hole into a manageable one-goal deficit. The pop occurred in a 15:20 stretch, starting at the 5:20 mark of the third quarter and ending with exactly 5:00 left in the final period. Perkovic dumped in three goals in the comeback while Ben Pridemore, Matt Kavanagh, and Scioscia pitched in a goal each. Importantly, Notre Dame used just seven offensive possessions to generate its six goals in the recovery, losing a possession via a caused turnover late in the third period. The Irish were firing like a team with a belief in Manifest Destiny, holding Duke to only one goal -- an unassisted Wolf slug -- on four possessions.
Duke, though, would stanch its bleeding with a Keenan bucket 2:21 after the Irish pulled within one but that did not deter Notre Dame from attempting to ruin Duke's pursuit of lacrosse Valhalla: Out of a frenetic series where Duke and Notre Dame traded turnovers following a monumental stuff of Wolf by Kelly, the Irish turned a settled situation from a timeout into a Perkovic goal on a Conor Doyle assist. Notre Dame, after playing like an overwhelmed team for much of the game, was within one -- 9-10 -- with 49.3 to play. The Irish, however, would come no closer to the gold trophy.
Brendan Fowler would win the faceoff proceeding Perkovic's bomb and allow Duke to take a timeout with 30 seconds remaining in regulation, the magic value for salting away a game. Wolf started with the bean on the whistle in the deep right restraining area, using a simple jab step to his left to shake his two marks and race toward the end line. Wolf then bent back toward the goal in a violent speed dodge, leaving his man on his hip and dropping home a goal with 23 seconds left on the clock to give the game its final 11-9 margin.
Notre Dame valiantly bootstrapped itself into the game, but the Devils proved their worth as college lacrosse's most valuable commodity in 2014.
NOTABLE INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES
Jordan Wolf, Duke (2G, 4A): The senior power plant accounted for six points and had a hand in the Devils' final five goals.
Sergio Perkovic, Notre Dame (5G): The freshman attacked served as the Irish's best weapon against Duke, partly due to the fact that he was matchup-positive and partly due to the fact that he had five goals on only nine shots (eight attempts were on goal) while committing zero turnovers.
Chris Hipps/Henry Lobb, Duke: The two senior defenseman held their marks -- Conor Doyle and Matt Kavanagh, respectively -- to a combined three points on only five shots while committing seven turnovers. Their suffocating play -- Hipps and Lobb generated four combined caused turnovers in addition to their fine defensive blanketing -- made Notre Dame look elsewhere for production, changing how the Irish approached their possessions.
Conor Kelly, Notre Dame (12SV): The keeper almost single-handedly kept the Irish in the game when everything was going sideways for the Irish.
TRUNCATED ADVANCED BOX SCORE
|Possession Margin||-4 (32)||+4 (36)|
|Raw Offensive Efficiency||28.13||30.56|
|Raw Offensive Shooting Rate||28.13%||30.56%|
|Shots per Offensive Opportunity||1.00||1.00|
|Turnovers per 100 Offensive Opportunities||46.88||36.11|
|Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Possessions||22.06||27.94|
|Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities||33.33||28.13|
|Team Save Percentage||52.17%||50.00%|