April 11, 2016

By: John Heisler

What a difference a week (or two) makes.

Consider this:

— Two weekends ago, Duke scored 16 goals in an overtime home win against Atlantic Coast Conference rival Syracuse.

Last weekend, the Blue Devils again scored 16 times in an overtime home loss to ACC rival North Carolina.

Sunday, thanks to a solid all-around defensive performance by second-rated Notre Dame and the nation’s third-ranked defense, Duke managed only a half-dozen goals, its fewest of the season and three less than the Blue Devils scored in any other game.

— Last week against North Carolina, Duke senior midfielder Myles Jones (no active player in American boasts more career points) had a career day with 11 points (five goals, six assists).

Sunday, against the Irish, Jones didn’t even have a shot on goal in the first three periods. Notre Dame collectively blanketed him to the tune of a single assist.

— Last weekend at Syracuse Notre Dame’s offense caught fire and torched the Orange early and often for a season-high 17 goals.

Sunday the Irish finished with eight goals, tying for its lowest total in any game in 2016 (the same number Notre Dame scored against Denver and Virginia).

— Last week Irish captain Matt Kavanagh finished the Syracuse game with a career-high nine points (and a career-high six assists).

Sunday versus Duke, Kavanagh did not score.

— Jones, Kavanagh and Duke’s Deemer Class (all seniors) represent three of the top 10 active Division I career scorers anywhere in the nation.

Sunday, none of those three esteemed players put the ball on net during the first three periods of play.

Yet, despite all those offensive vagaries, eight goals Sunday by Notre Dame proved enough to defeat the 12th-rated Blue Devils by an 8-6 count, leaving the Irish perfect in ACC play at 3-0 and improving the overall mark for Kevin Corrigan’s club to 8-1.

All those facts cement Corrigan’s notion that a rock-solid defense–a familiar character trait of Irish teams in recent seasons–remains a great way to go. And Sunday’s version played a huge role for Notre Dame–especially in effectively pushing a potentially dominant Jones away from the action at virtually every opportunity.

Duke came into the game leading the ACC in scoring (and ranking second nationally) at 14.5 goals per outing–and the Irish held them to only two in the final 30 minutes. The Blue Devils managed only a single score in the final 26:14 of the contest (Notre Dame scored five times during that same window of time).

“Here’s what I know,” said Corrigan to his team before the game. “We’re a better team right now than we have been at any time all year. But that doesn’t mean anything unless we back it up with the focus and intensity to be at our best today. If we don’t bring a competitive attitude when we know darn well our opponent is going to bring it–and if we’re not willing to get down in the rubber pellets and make the tough plays that need to be made . . . . We go through this gauntlet of games because it gives us the chance to build confidence.”

While Kavanagh, Sergio Perkovic (he had three goals Sunday), Mikey Wynne and even freshman Ryder Garnsey (he had two straight in the third period that brought his team back from a second two-goal deficit) garner headlines for their offensive exploits, the Irish coaches know winning depends just as much on the contributions of their more unsung heroes.

It’s long pole John Sexton flying in from the wing to grab a ground ball on a face-off. It’s the Irish ride forcing another failed clear. It’s Notre Dame goaltender Shane Doss quietly and calmly doing his thing in the net. It’s the entire Irish defense forcing the Blue Devils into one shot-clock penalty and a second lost possession when the shot clock ran down and the visitors had to simply roll the ball into the corner. On Sunday it was freshman Drew Schantz and Sexton and freshman Hugh Crance giving Jones and the rest of the Duke offense all sorts of problems. Even Perkovic at one point found himself defending Jones in a matchup maybe more suited for Notre Dame Stadium.

It was no accident that Sunday, when the Irish “man of the match” award was presented postgame by Kavanagh, it went to Sexton–who did as well as anyone at getting down in the pellets and making the unheralded plays.

Except they aren’t unheralded to the Irish coaching staff.

After the game, Corrigan said. “On a day when we didn’t have a lot of things we’re used to having, what we did have is what makes us different–our talent, our skill, our ability to communicate. Our talent, our skill, our ability, our discipline to stay sideways and recover and pull ourselves out of bad slides and still aggressively make good slides.

“When we weren’t getting a lot of great things offensively, we would ride our butts off and make some extra valuable possessions happen. We put guys on the wings who made plays when we needed them made. Everybody wants to talk about this guy who scores like this and shoots like this–what this still comes down to is 50 guys believing what it means to do all the little things. Some teams are better at some of those things–and we’re pretty good at those other little things.”

Duke came in ranked last in the ACC (and 52nd nationally) in turnovers at more than 15 per game–and the Irish exploited that to a T, forcing 23 Blue Devil miscues and six failed clear attempts.

“I love to hear our bench erupt after a great slide or when one of our wings comes in and shakes a ball loose,” added Corrigan. “Everybody erupts when the ball goes in the back of the net. When we react to those other things it give us a chance to be a great team.

“That’s why we won that game.

“Let’s keep believing in that.”

University of Notre Dame Athletics Communications contact:
John Heisler
Senior Associate Athletics Director
112 Joyce Center
Notre Dame, IN 46556
574-631-7516 (office)
574-532-0293 (cell)

The University of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team pursues excellence on and off the field through the three pillars in which the program is built: Character, Culture & Community. These three foundational values guide the promise of the program, which is to provide its student-athletes with the most compelling and enriching experience in all of college athletics. Through academics, competition, service and travel, the program aims to immerse its players in situations that enhance their student-athlete experience to help them become the people, students and teammates they aspire to be.

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