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NCAA Lax Recap: Duke - Syracuse

Duke is STILL winning faceoffs

If you kept tabs on Syracuse's run through the NCAA Tournament to Monday's Championship game against Duke, you know that in many ways it was an unlikely run. In fact, coming off last year's 9-8 season and opening round loss to Duke, along with starting this season with an overtime loss to Albany, it's unlikely to even think that the Orange would have earned a #1 seed, let alone advance to the title game. In every tournament game - against Bryant, against Yale, and against Denver - Syracuse dug itself into a hole that required a comeback to achieve victory. You very easily could look at any of those games and said "Syracuse deserves to lose." But the team fought; they persevered; they won. So when the title game looked all too familiar, those who knew the recent history didn't panic. Maybe the team didn't panic either. Maybe they were complacent in the "Don't worry, we've got this" attitude. Whatever it was, it was not enough to secure a victory, as the Duke Blue Devils beat the Syracuse Orange 16-10 to earn the NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship.

The title game could not have started any better for Syracuse. In a first quarter completely dominated by the Orange, Duke was left surrendering goals to Billy Ward, Kevin Rice, Dylan Donahue, and Luke Cometti. Everything was clicking on offense for the #1 seed, and nothing was going right for the Duke offense. When the Blue Devils weren't committing sloppy turnovers, they were taking shots that Syracuse goalkeeper Dominic Lamolinara was seeking with eagle-eyed vision.

Those four unanswered goals in the first quarter became a 5-0 lead early in the second, as Donahue got back on the board again. 90 seconds later, Duke finally found net, but just over a minute later, Scott Loy scored to again return the Orange lead to five. And then, Duke woke up. The Blue Devils scored the next four goals to close out the half, and enter the locker room down only 6-5.

An early third quarter Duke goal left the game tied at 6, and through the next eight and a half minutes of game play, neither team scored. Donahue scored again, giving the Orange a 7-6 lead at 4:28 in the third. But then Duke never looked back. Four Duke goals closed out the third quarter, and a 10-7 margin was brought to the game's final 15 minutes.

Duke didn't let up as the fourth began. Goals at 13:39, 12:29, and 10:47 gave the Blue Devils a 13-7 lead. JoJo Marasco finally got on the scoreboard with unassisted goals at 8:11 and 7:36 to narrow the gap to 13-9. Duke, however, kept winning faceoffs and hitting dagger shots to keep this game safely out of reach for the Orange.

As you no doubt have read elsewhere, or witnessed by watching the game, it was Duke's dominance at the faceoff X (or dot, or whatever it's being called these days) that was essential to the trophy returning to Durham. Duke faceoff specialist Brendan Fowler not only won 20 of 28 faceoffs on the day (Duke was 21-30 on the day), but he also won the draws when they counted most. Those gaps in the game when Syracuse wasn't scoring? It wasn't because they couldn't get things going on offense. It was because they were on defense. Because Duke won the faceoffs. Syracuse has dealt with some great faceoff specialists this season, notably in the postseason, and still won. Their offensive efficiency was just that good. But it just wasn't to be this Memorial Day.

And so, we look back at what ended up to be a very successful season of lacrosse. For much of the season it was a wide-open field, and heading into Selection Sunday, Syracuse secured some great resume-building wins to earn that #1 seed. And making it to the title game proved that Syracuse was seeded right where it needed to be seeded. And, but for giving up a 5-0 lead and being owned by a faceoff wizard, Syracuse may have won title #12. But we'll never know.

At any rate, congratulations to the entire team and coaching staff for an amazing season. I'm especially happy for this year's seniors, who waited their entire college careers to play in a Final Four - an otherwise guarantee for all classes dating back thirty years. And they got to play in a title game, and almost win it. The underclassmen gained some valuable experience, not only in these tournament games, but in all the one-goal games throughout the season. They'll be well-seasoned vets for next season. Next season. First in the ACC. Yikes! We'll take suggestions on the correct adjective to use when describing the ACC Lacrosse league.

Check back later this week, as I wrap up the 2012-2013 year of Syracuse University Athletics before embarking on our annual summer hiatus.

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