May 24, 2014
Myles Jones helped Duke avert a near-upset at the hands of High Point on Saturday. Can the Blue Devils stay on point and top Air Force in their second game in as many days? (Bill Danielewski)
Myles Jones helped Duke avert a near-upset at the hands of High Point on Saturday. Can the Blue Devils stay on point and top Air Force in their second game in as many days? (Bill Danielewski)

Duke Answers All Denver Challenges in 15-12 Semis Win

by Gary Lambrecht | | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive | May Madness Home

In-Game Blog Replay


Duke jumped out to an early lead, then held off a late Denver run to advance to the NCAA finals, where they'll defend their 2013 title against Notre Dame on Monday. (Bill Danielewski)

Highlights via Blue Devil Network

BALTIMORE – For the second playoff game in a row, Duke seemed on the verge of overwhelming its opponent, before the Blue Devils staggered, nearly lost a healthy lead and saw their starting goalie go to the bench.

But the top-seeded Blue Devils, as no. 5 seed Denver learned painfully in Saturday's NCAA tournament semifinal at M&T Bank Stadium, always have the right answers.

In its 15-12 victory over Denver, Duke's third-quarter, 10-5 lead nearly evaporated, as the Pioneers twice cut the advantage to one goal.

Showing the seasoning of a team that has been to eight consecutive final fours and will play for its second straight NCAA title on Monday against sixth-seeded Notre Dame, the Blue Devils calmly closed the deal once again.

In the span of 95 seconds, Deemer Class, Chad Cohan and Kyle Keenan – making his first start since 2012 in place of injured attackman Josh Dionne – scored goals that turned a tenuous, 12-11 lead into a 15-11 bulge for Duke with 7:09 left in the contest.

And with that counterpunch, Duke was on its way to its third NCAA final in the past five seasons.

"The game is full of runs. We knew [Denver] was going to have theirs. It was a matter of how we reacted and responded," Duke midfielder Myles Jones said. "When we needed the goals, we stepped up."

Duke (16-3) has been all about stepping for the past two months. On Saturday, the Blue Devils played their first game in 2014 without Dionne, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week's 19-11, quarterfinals win over Johns Hopkins.

Up stepped Keenan, who shifted from second midfield to his natural attack position and put a hurting on Denver (16-3) with a career-high four goals.

"I was in the right place at the right time," Keenan said. "I got a bunch of great feeds. I've got to credit my teammates."

Early in the fourth quarter, after Denver attackman Wesley Berg scored his fifth goal of the day to pull the Pioneers (16-3) to within 11-10, Duke goalie Luke Aaron was pulled for the second game in a row and replaced by Kyle Turri. He stepped up to make four saves and allowed just two goals after the switch.

With the Blue Devils, who ended Denver's school-record, 13-game winning streak, it's always somebody.

On Saturday, the usual suspects showed up. There was first-team All-American attackman Jordan Wolf, who finished with three goals and two assists. Class, the first-team All-American midfielder, bounced back from a scoreless showing against Hopkins to score three goals. Jones, the second-team All-American, added two goals and an assist. Senior midfielder Christian Walsh had three assists and a goal.

And then there were guys like Keenan, Turri and Cohan, who scored twice on the second midfield line.

"We play a lot of games, get a lot of experience...this is what, game no. 19?," Duke coach John Danowski said. "You're behind at the half, you're ahead at half, you play with a lead, you come from behind, your opponent just beats you and sometimes you allow your opponent to come back. Guys are drawing from all of those experiences."

Denver became the latest opponent that couldn't solve those guys from Durham. The Pioneers lost in the semifinals for the third time in the past four seasons and remain in search of the school's first national title.

The Pioneers, who got a monster game from Berg and three goals apiece from Tyler Pace and Jack Bobzien, put up a tenacious fight. After Wolf scored three times to punctuate a 4-0, second-quarter run that gave Duke an 8-4 lead at halftime, Denver trailed 10-5 with 8:33 to go in the third quarter, following goals by Keenan and Walsh.

But Bobzien, Berg and Pace erupted for four, combined goals over the last five minutes of the quarter, and suddenly, Duke was on its heels with an 11-9 lead. Then, Berg beat Charlie Payton up top and ripped a 10-yard shot that Aaron got his stick on but didn't stop, as the ball trickled into the goal. With 13:46 left, Duke's lead had shrunk to 11-10.

Out went Aaron. In came Turri to settle down the Blue Devils. And after the teams traded goals, Keenan started the decisive run, after Case Matheis delivered a perfect feed to him on the crease. Then, senior faceoff man Brendan Fowler (15-for-29) won the next two draws to fuel the 3-0 burst that knocked out the Pioneers.

"Duke is a fabulous team. I thought we showed our courage and our heart. These guys just chipped away, and we never felt out of it," Denver coach Bill Tierney said. "We'll be back, and you guys are going to get tired of us until you see us celebrate for this thing."

The Blue Devils simply held too many options for Denver to handle. Consider that with 15 goals, Duke matched the lowest scoring output in its last 11 games, and in the process dropped the most goals on Denver that the Pioneers have allowed in the past 15 months. Consider that, on a day that Denver committed only six turnovers, mistakes were magnified against a Duke squad that weighed in with a season-low six miscues.

A week ago, Duke scored the game's first six goals against Hopkins, lost momentum, lost Dionne at the end of the first half, and Aaron departed after Hopkins had closed to within 12-10. Duke responded with a game-ending, 7-1 run.

On Monday, Notre Dame, in a rematch of the 2010 title game that Duke won at M&T Bank Stadium, will try to find history-making answers against the Blue Devils.

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