The top-ranked Cornell Big Red battled back to top the Duke Blue Devils, 7-6 in Durham. Duke held a halftime lead of 4-2, which turned into a 5-4 Cornell lead in the third quarter, only to have Duke pull ahead at 6-5 heading into the fourth quarter. Cornell notched two goals in the final quarter despite Duke's Dan Loftus stopping 9 Cornell shots in the period. Cornell was led by senior David Mitchell's three goals and Max Seibald's goal and two assists. Duke had two goals each from senior Matt Danowski and sophomore Sam Payton, while senior Dan Loftus' 17 saves on the night kept the Big Red offense from exploding.
Durham, NC – What was slated to be a battle between two of the top teams in the country, didn’t disappoint. Cornell was ranked #1, but until this point of the season hadn’t played any top-15 teams, so their #1 ranking was almost a result of everyone else losing and them still going strong. Tonight’s game proved they deserve to be there.
The first half, however, was all Duke. Duke owned nearly every statistical category. The Blue Devils outshot Cornell 20-10, outgroundball’ed them 28-15, won 7-of-8 face-offs in the first half. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, they couldn’t generate more than four first half goals. Part of that was due to the play of Cornell senior goalie, Matt McMonagle, who despite only having six saves in the first half, they were important saves.
“I felt like in the first half, they [Duke] did a great job. They controlled the pace of the offense and we were just in such a rush offensively, that it was really a lop-sided game. Not by the score, but certainly by the statistics. I thought our guys settled down a bit more in the possessions in the second half and attempted to just go out and play,” said Cornell head coach Jeff Tambroni.
“He’s [McMonagle] been very consistent for us and when we’ve needed him he’s been there. And today he certainly was there when we needed him. He gave up a couple of goals today, but I don’t think the goals he gave up today can be blamed on Matty. I think when you’re playing a team like Duke with as many weapons as they have, you’re going to give up goals, you’re going to give up open looks, or shots. I thought the shots that went in, kudos to Duke. But the other ones, we were fortunate that a couple hit the pipe, but the rest of them Matty did a good job of getting a good beat on the ball and really allowed us to settle in the second half, because if it wasn’t for him in the first half, we probably wouldn’t have had an opportunity to even be close to do what we did in the second half.”
Cornell’s offense early looked to generate midfield sweeps to dodge down the side, hoping to draw a slide and generate looks off of that. From the get-go, Duke took away those midfield sweeps. They weren’t afraid to drastically overplay taking away the middle of the field. At one point Cornell’s Max Seibald tried to force his way across the middle and Duke’s LSM Nick O’Hara sent his stick helicopter’ing through the air.
While the defense set the tone, the offense wasn’t far behind for Duke. They came out firing with 12 shots in the first quarter. 4:45 into the game, Bo Carrington threw a pass across to Sam Payton, and Payton ripped a high-to-high shot in to get the scoring going. Cornell managed a couple of possessions in response. Finally attackman David Mitchell dodged from X after they weren’t able to get penetration anywhere else. Mitchell didn’t really beat his guy, but he managed to get a shot off that just snuck past Loftus to get Cornell on the board.
Duke would answer with a sustained possession. Cornell did a nice job of holding off the attack, but eventually a pick back at X, caused a defensive switch that matched Duke senior Matt Danowski with a short-stick defender. The short-stick, Rocco Romero, did a nice job initially of stopping Danowski, but persistence paid off and as he dodged back to his left-hand from X he got a step on Romero. With Romero on his hip, Danowski got off a lefty shot and put the bouncer past McMonagle.
Duke’s 3rd goal came as a result of a nice man-down effort. Playing down for a minute, Duke longpole Parker McKee made a nice play to bat down a lazy Cornell pass. He scooped up the groundball and took it down the other way. On the ensuing possession, Danowski controlled the ball at X. He drove to his right and despite barely beating the defender put a right-handed shot in from a low-percentage angle for his 2nd of the day.
“Well you know with a kid like Matt Danowski, I’m not sure what you can do to really stop him. You have to contain him as much as possible. He scored one of his goals against one of our short-sticks unfortunately when we changed match-ups. Not that we wanted to, they did a good job of creating that. With him, we tried to do a good job on-the-ball, you have to keep the stick on his hands, because he can shoot from anywhere and he’ll pull the trigger anytime,” said Tambroni.
“Then we felt like if Mitch [Belisle] got beat, we just felt like we needed to slide to him, that’s how good he is. I think he’s the best offensive player in the country. Not only do you need to commit your best defenseman, which we did, you probably need to commit another guy to at least mirror him, in case he gets himself into a position to create open looks. Which he did a couple times today, but a kid like that is going to because he’s just that good. I thought for the most Mitch did a great job today, he was excited to compete against him and he did a good job today.”
It would take awhile for either team to generate anything further on offense. Duke’s defense made great stops on two long Cornell possessions between the 6:00 and 3:00 marks in the first half. At the tail end of the second stop, Duke’s Brad Ross made a catch on the clear just shy of midfield in traffic. Despite three converging Cornell riders, Ross tucked the stick and ran it across. On the possession following, Cornell got back at Ross. Ross was driving from X on a short-stick defender, but was stripped. McMonagle saw the looseball and sprinted out to grab it. Cornell cleared it down into the restraining box, but Duke quickly put the ball on the ground. It skittered across midfield to Cornell short-stick defenseman Danny Nathan. Nathan picked it up and banged it to David Mitchell who had a good angle. Mitchell put the shot away and brought the score back to 3-2 with 1:30 to play in the first half. The goal gave Nathan his first career point.
Despite owning the stats, Duke still didn’t manage to get any more goals in the first half. With time winding down and another McMonagle save, a looseball scrum occurred about 7 yards up from the Cornell crease. A big hit by a Duke player popped a looseball out to Zack Greer off to the side of the goal. The lefty grabbed the looseball and made a great individual effort to put a jumping, twisting lefty shot in with just :13 in the half.
“We played more disciplined. We came out more relaxed and confident than we did the last couple of times. But again, the opposite of that came out in the second half. We have to string two of those halves like that together and we’ll be all right. But we improved on what we wanted to improve on last time, but it’s still not good enough,” said Matt Danowski.
Cornell’s offense, with all the talent it has, finally got rolling in the third quarter. “I felt like the first half they were real timid and holding back a great deal and the second half they just went out there and just played,” said Tambroni.
Their third goal came from an Eric Pittard feed to Henry Bartlett less than three minutes in. Three minutes later there was a flag down. The ball kicked out to Max Seibald. Seibald tucked his stick and drove to the crease. He put a lefty bounce shot past Loftus to tie the game. Five minutes later, came a nice display of fundamentals by Cornell. Following a clear, Max Seibald beat Nick O’Hara as Cornell was quicker to get their d-mids subbed to the midfield than Duke got their offensive middies subbed off. Seibald had a couple of steps, Cornell got him the ball. Duke was forced to slide to stop the dangerous middie. Seibald moved the ball to the open Brian Clayton, and Clayton ripped a low-to-high shot in to give Cornell its first lead of the day.
On the ensuing possession, Duke’s Peter Lamade made a nice individual play. He dodged and re-dodged, and as he was pushing back top-side, he got off a left-handed shot mid-fall. The shot beat McMonagle low and tied the game again. Greer would factor into yet another goal as time was expiring in a quarter. Greer possessed the ball back left surveying the defense. He saw an opening and banged it across the defense to Sam Payton who gave Duke a 6-5 lead with just :06 to play in the third quarter.
Cornell controlled the fourth quarter and didn’t waste any time in getting started. They won the face-off, which was something that they hadn’t done well all night. Duke was 11-of-15 on the night, despite Cornell winning all three of the fourth quarter face-offs. On the face-off win, David Mitchell got a rebound off a Loftus save and scored just :07 into the quarter, tying the game at 6. From there, both teams would trade possessions, until Cornell was awarded a man-up with 9:16 to play. On the man-up, Seibald misjudged a pass, but kept possession of the ball after a little scrum for the looseball. Seibald dodged down the wing after getting the groundball and banged it across crease to Eric Pittard who quick-sticked the game winner in with 8:54 to go.
Despite no more goals being scored in the game, the excitement kept growing. Cornell looked like they had stretched their lead with about 4:06 to go on a Brian Clayton point blank shot. Loftus made the save with what appeared to be his shaft. The ball careened down and with backspin went backwards between his legs and rolled into the goal. To the dismay of the Cornell faithful, the goal was disallowed as the ref ran in and signaled Clayton had stepped in the crease. On the clear, Cornell nearly put the game away as they almost rode the ball back. Riding was something that Cornell did well all night, and even thought Duke was 17-of-21 on the clear; Cornell made them earn every one. Following the clear, Duke worked the ball around to Danowski. Danowski tried to feed inside, but the ball popped out and there was a fight for the looseball. Danowski had his guy boxed out and was going for the ball. A questionable slash/looseball push went without a whistle and Danowski went down in pain as Cornell cleared the ball with just over a minute and a half remaining in the game.
“We have to move our feet when we pass the ball. I had Sam Payton wide open on the crease there, I didn’t move my feet and the guy knocked it down. Just the little things, we need to focus on the small things and get better,” said Matt Danowski.
With time fading, Dan Loftus came up with another big save. Overall he played well, but his performance in the fourth quarter with 9 saves is what gave Duke a chance at the end. After the save, Cornell got the rebound back but overthrew a pass. This gave Duke possession over midfield and they called a timeout with 1:17 to go. Out of the timeout, Fred Krom held the ball for Duke at X as they set up their offense. Krom drove to his right and found an open man. The laser shot nailed the pipe and careened towards the corner where the midfield meets the sideline. A Duke player was closest to the ball on the offensive side. Unfortunately, a heads-up play by a Cornell attackman to beat his defenseman and get as close to the corner of the box, while staying onsides, gave Cornell the ball, as he was closer to where it went out. Cornell would run out the clock. First they called a timeout with about :24 left and used nearly the full 10 seconds before they had to get it in the box. Once in trouble they used another timeout, so that out of the timeout :07 only remained on the clock. This meant they didn’t need to go into the box and could just run out the clock.
“It was a one goal game, the shot totals were even, everything statistically was pretty even. They put in a couple of rebounds and all of a sudden the game is over. Sometimes lacrosse games for 60 minutes are as simple as hitting the pipe. We hit the pipe and it goes out-of-bounds, and they get possession. It’s like we couldn’t even miss it [the pipe] and get possession back. We have to hit the pipe and then they get possession at midfield. That’s kind of how it works sometimes,” said Duke head coach John Danowski.
“Sometimes the ball bounces that way. And we’re okay with that. I just thought we improved so much from last week and from Saturday. I thought defensively, especially, and I think we’re going to continue to get better, continue to improve and I’m okay with a night like tonight.”
He added, “Defensively, I thought we played great team defense. I thought we slid and recovered, and again I thought we did a really good job with that. A couple of their goals, we only give up seven, we give up one rebound off the face-off. We give up another groundball situation, where they pick the ball up on a flag-down, that’s two of their seven. So I don’t know without looking at the film, we probably only gave up maybe four legitimate six-on-six goals. If you’re going to give up four legitimate six-on-six goals in a game, you’re gonna be in with anybody. Considering they’re a senior team and they’re altogether, we’re still figuring out our way. The guys are still figuring what we expect of them, it’s still a learning process that we’re going through together as a group.”
Neither team has much chance to come up for air.
“They took some chances, made some mistakes, but got a good result, because they were willing to make some of those mistakes and had the success that they did. You know, we’re thrilled, it’s a big win for these guys, coming in for Spring Break against a great team away from home. But it is just one win. So we also understand that with the season being such a long season and with so much left to be played, we don’t have much of a turnaround with our Ivy League schedule this Saturday. We have to keep this in perspective and move along with what we got, which was a win, and then understand we have to start preparing for Yale right away,” said Tambroni.
Duke gets back on the road to face Georgetown on Saturday in what feels like a must-win situation for both teams, as both could use a quality win to keep things building towards the April run.
“I’m real proud of them, I think we’re better than we were on Saturday. We’re going to get better,” said the elder Danowski.
While his son reiterated that and a focus on fundamentals. “We have to be patient on offense. Taking care of the little things. Little turnovers we can’t have anymore, because each possession is precious to us, because we don’t get a lot of them anymore. Be more patient and more disciplined stuff like that, if we start taking care of that we’ll be all right,” said Matt Danowski. “[need to improve on] Shooting, obviously I think. 6 goals on 39 shots. We had a lot of pipes. Just the small things.”
It also seemed that both are ready for the time when the questions only pertain to the play on the field.
When asked about how it felt that the loss to Cornell was their last game, Matt Danowski had this to say, “Yeah, you know that really doesn’t matter. Last year, last game. A lot worse stuff happened last year than losing to Cornell. This one hurts because we had it and we gave it away. That’s never a good feeling, but it hurts as much as Loyola did. We can’t sit on it forever, we have to learn from it and try to get better.”
While the coach Danowski added, “We’re all trying to move forward, man, with our lives. We’re trying to stop mourning. We’re trying hard not to allow people to remind us about last year all the time. Just say this is 2007 and it’s time to live. It’s not time to dwell on the past. And I wasn’t here. I was a fan last year, I sat in the stands. They played on the practice field. It was a lot different, bigger crowd, there was a really nice crowd tonight [2,332 in attendance]. Last year there were maybe 75 people there.”
|Matt Danowski||(2, 0)|
|Zack Greer||(1, 1)|
|Sam Payton||(2, 0)|
|Bo Carrington||(0, 1)|
|Peter Lamade||(1, 0)|
|Dan Loftus||17 (0.708)|