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NCAA Lacrosse Tournament: Duke Builds Big Lead and Holds on to Beat Cornell, 16-14

Cornell's bid for its first championship since 1977 falls short as Duke moves on to Memorial Monday.

Winslow Townson

Leading 14-6 with 2:22 to play in the third quarter, it appeared as if Duke was going to need to call their traveling secretary and book two extra nights in their Philadelphia hotel. The Blue Devils -- after falling behind 3-1 in the first period -- were in total control of the game, riding the wave of a 12-1 run that turned a three-goal deficit early in the second quarter into a dominating eight-goal lead. Duke's defense, maligned for much of the season despite having some of the strongest individual defensive players in the nation, was suffocating Cornell's prodigious offense -- Henry Lobb and his demolition firm were locking off Rob Pannell, Kyle Turri was playing like an All American in the net, and the Big Red couldn't seem to find any open seams to put shots on goal. The Devils' offense, slow to burn at the start of the game, was burying the Red -- left with time, room, and preferable shooting postures, Duke was leveraging its offensive responsibility throughout the unit as the Devils tore Cornell's undervalued defense to shreds and left A.J. Fiore in the unenviable position of trying to turn away shots that were destined for net.

A Cornell score on a broken play at the tail end of the third period would draw the Red within seven -- Steve Mock slithered through an unsettled Duke defense to feed Pannell in the high slot, allowing the Tewaaraton candidate to ram home an overhand blast past Turii -- but the momentum of the game was in Duke's favor: Having dominated the preceding 30 minutes of play, rolling with a defense firing on all cylinders, and Cornell's defense leaking blood from its collective ears, the Devils appeared poised to pursue its second ever national championship on Monday. Then, as if the 2013 college lacrosse season would not permit a national semifinal game to avoid the insanity that has defined most of the year, Cornell found the groove that lifted the Red among the nation's hyper elite this season.

The fourth quarter began with the two teams trading possessions, but a Max Van Bourgondien goal on an assist from Rob Pannell -- Van Bourgondien pressed the crease after Pannell caught two Blue Devils defenders between responsibilities -- brought Cornell within six with over 11 minutes to play. A Connor Buczek unassisted goal -- earned partly from a failed clear from Duke -- cut the margin to five just over a minute later. Duke would take a timeout, but then the deluge began from the Red: A turnover from David Lawson would give Cornell a possession that would morph into a man-up opportunity, and Cornell would respond with a beautiful backhanded finish from Connor English on a no-look helper from Pannell; a Doug Tesoriero win on the ensuing faceoff would generate an unassisted goal from Pannell just 20 seconds later; capitalizing on a Luke Duprey turnover on a Brendan Fowler faceoff win, Pannell would finish against Turri to draw the Big Red within two -- 14-11 -- with more than eight minutes remaining. Cornell -- despite a miserable thirty minutes of play after controlling much of the first period -- was right back in the game with the best player in college lacrosse -- Pannell, who had eclipsed the NCAA record for career points with his unassisted goal at 8:04 remaining in regulation -- playing with fire, passion, and purpose.

For the Red, however, it was the last true burst of concentrated domination the team would show on the day. Duke would take advantage of a man-up opportunity just over a minute-and-a-half after Pannell's final point on the day, seeing Lawson stop Cornell's 6-0 run. A Van Bourgondien goal with 1:31 remaining in regulation would draw the Red within 15-13 (Cornell was in full pressure mode at that point in the game, hectically pursuing Duke on the preceding defensive possession and eventually earning a 30-second clock violation), setting the stage for a wild finish: Cornell would win the ensuing faceoff but pitch the possession away after Connor Buczek (1) threw a pass past a wide open Steve Mock, and (2) inadvertently stepped in the crease; Matt Donovan would cause a turnover against Jake Tripucka on the following clear -- a 10-man ride attempt from the Red -- and Buczek cashed in with a hammer; Duke would pick up the next faceoff, take a timeout, and ultimately finish off the Red's season -- Jordan Wolf, with two men in pursuit (including defensive impresario Jason Noble), would rush through the attack box, bend back toward the goal, and put Duke's 16th goal past Fiore.

It was the most complete game that Duke has played all tournament and one of the Devils' best efforts this season. For Cornell, it was an illustration of their heart and what Ben DeLuca is establishing in Ithaca, following in the tradition that Richie Moran, Dave Pietramala, and Jeff Tamboni put in place at Schoellkopf Field.

Here's a truncated tempo-free box score:

Cornell-Duke: Truncated Tempo-Free Box Score
Metric Cornell Duke
Offensive Efficiency (per 100 Offensive Opportunities) 40.00 37.21
Offensive Opportunities 35 43
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.51 0.88
Offensive Shooting Percentage 26.42% 42.11%
Turnovers (per 100 Offensive Opportunities) 22.86 41.86
Caused Turnovers (per 100 Defensive Opportunities) 16.28 14.29
Unforced Turnovers (per 100 Offensive Opportunities) 8.57 25.58
Team Save Percentage 38.46% 53.33%
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 23.26 45.71
Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 20.51 29.49