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NCAA Lacrosse Tournament: Duke Wins Second National Championship with 16-10 Victory Over Syracuse

The Devils dominate the Orange after trailing early.

Drew Hallowell

Duke started the season 2-4, beating only Jacksonville and Mercer while taking lumps from three presumed national title contenders and a program of interest -- Denver (12-14), Notre Dame (5-13), Pennsylvania (9-14), and Maryland (7-16). The Blue Devils, known for slow starts to their seasons under John Danowski, looked wayward and lost. With a date with Loyola -- unproven in early March -- looming on the horizon, would this be the year in which Duke fell from the graces of the national elite?

A 9-8 victory over the Greyhounds alleviated some of the concerns about the Devils and may have sparked the program's push through the 2013 season: Starting with the Blue Devils' defeat of the reigning national champions, Duke rattled off nine consecutive wins, including important victories over North Carolina, Harvard, and Virginia. The Devils had pulled themselves from the domain of the unranked (Duke fell out of the media poll on March 4th after Maryland waxed the Blue Devils at Koskinen Stadium) to among the national elite. A loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament -- a 17-18 setback for Duke, but an effort that required the Blue Devils to charge back at the Tar Heels from a 15-6 deficit early in the third quarter -- snapped Duke's winning streak, but the Blue Devils were in a decent position to make a run at the NCAA Tournament.

Things didn't start well for Duke in The Big Barbecue. A 12-11 double overtime victory over Loyola -- a game in which Loyola head coach Charley Toomey called a timeout just before the Blake Burkhart and the Greyhounds appeared to score the go-ahead goal with just 59 seconds remaining in regulation -- didn't assuage concerns about the seventh-seeded Blue Devils. A 12-11 victory over Notre Dame in the national quarterfinals -- a game in which Duke went back and forth against an Irish team that hadn't exactly established itself as an offensive force in its run toward the postseason -- marked the Blue Devils as dangerous but still a notable underdog entering Championship Weekend. Duke's defeat of Cornell -- arguably the strongest team in Division I lacrosse this season -- raised an eyebrow that the Devils came to Philadelphia ready to play, another iteration of John Danowski's master plan of playing a team's best lacrosse at the end of the season. The team's destruction of Syracuse -- an 11-time national champion and a program with a sophisticated understand of May and the effort necessary in that month to find success -- in the national championship erased all the concerns about Duke and its place in the national hierarchy: A 16-10 victory that was even more lopsided than the final scoreline shows cemented the Blue Devils as the nation's best in 2013.

Some notes on the game:

  • A 12-1 run from Duke -- a streak that started at 11:05 of the second quarter and ended with 10:47 remaining in regulation -- ultimately dictated the outcome of the game. The Blue Devils were trailing 6-1 before an unassisted Jake Tripucka goal drew blood -- a kamikaze effort to the crease that Dominic Lamolinara had no chance of stopping -- and opened the floodgates. The bludgeoning that Duke put on Syracuse in this stretch wasn't just on the scoreboard, though. Rather, the Devils completely dominated play after Scott Loy gave the Orange its five-goal lead 18 minutes and 13 seconds into the game: Duke generated 23 possessions over that stretch to just 10 for Syracuse; the Blue Devils scored goals on the possession resulting directly from a Brendan Fowler faceoff win on eight occasions in that run of play, including a four consecutive possession stretch in the third quarter that turned a 7-6 lead for the Orange into a 10-7 lead for the Blue Devils in just a shade over four minutes; and Syracuse committed six turnovers on their 10 offensive opportunities. It was surgical precision from Duke, fat on extra possessions and efficient use of them. Alternatively, it was 30:18 of complete game-changing annihilation from Duke, the difference between Syracuse hanging around and the Blue Devils readying the Gatorade buckets early in the game's final period.
  • Fowler's play -- an effort that earned the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player honors -- detonated Syracuse's formula for victory this season. The Orange have played in possession deficits all year, but Syracuse's ability to efficiently generate scores when it actually had the ball and the defense's ability to kill defensive opportunities mitigated the overall impact of Syracuse's possession-generation problems. In the title game, however, Duke played with a plus-14 offensive opportunity advantage (plus-14!), a stunning difference in opportunity. Fowler was the biggest driver of this margin, giving the Blue Devils 50 percent of the offensive opportunities the team would have on the day (Fowler's faceoff wins (20) were exactly half of Duke's total offensive opportunities (40)). The specialist was an animal at the dot, winning 12 faceoffs (faceoffs that weren't violations from Syracuse) in Duke's 12-1 run to blow the game open. Before that streak, Duke was just 5-3 in faceoff play.
  • Dovetailing the last point, the possession margin that Duke built (plus-14) was ultimately too much for Syracuse to overcome. Based on the rate at which each team was defending and scoring the ball, if the Blue Devils had merely held a plus-six possession advantage -- its average over 60 minutes of play this season -- the outcome may have been closer to a 14-12 game in favor of the Devils (and based on how one- and two-goal games have played out this season, the end result may have moved closer to a Syracuse win). Syracuse simply had to play too many defensive possessions and Duke took advantage of their opportunities at an impressive rate. The Orange have relied on their defense to make stops in order to generate offensive opportunities -- especially off of faceoff postures -- and Syracuse's defensive unit was torn to shreds by the Devils' offense over the game's deciding 30 minutes of play. In short, 56 percent of the game's total possessions on the day were Duke offensive/Syracuse defensive opportunities; that ratio -- even with Syracuse's defensive ability -- is too much to overcome given the Devils' offensive strength.
  • Outside of dominating possession (and finishing those opportunities at a high rate), the Devils outplayed Syracuse in the little aspects of play: Duke was better on groundballs, caused more turnovers by a wide margin, were significantly better at valuing the ball than the Orange (what had been a strength of Syracuse all season), and got more sustainable play in the crease with Kyle Turri than Syracuse received from Lamolinara. Duke dominated the big things and the small things, and that's how the Devils walked out of Lincoln Financial Field with a crushing six-goal win.

Here's a truncated tempo-free box score:

Duke-Syracuse: Truncated Tempo-Free Box Score
Metric Duke Syracuse
Offensive Efficiency (per 100 Offensive Opportunities) 40.00 38.46
Offensive Opportunities 40 26
Shots per Offensive Opportunity 1.15 1.38
Offensive Shooting Percentage 34.78% 27.78%
Turnovers (per 100 Offensive Opportunities) 27.50 42.31
Caused Turnovers (per 100 Defensive Opportunities) 30.77 15.00
Unforced Turnovers (per 100 Offensive Opportunities) 12.50 11.54
Team Save Percentage 54.55% 40.74%
Saves per 100 Defensive Opportunities 46.15 27.50
Run-of-Play Groundballs per 100 Total Possessions 34.85 27.27