Syracuse overcomes early deficit, beats Duke 15-14 for ACC championship
CHESTER, Pa. -- Third-seeded Syracuse (11-2) fought back from an early 6-2 deficit and held off fourth-seeded Duke 15-14 to capture the 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference Men's Lacrosse Championship on Sunday, April 26 at PPL Park.
It's the Orange's first ACC title and fifth conference championship in the last six seasons.
"It was a great game for college lacrosse and obviously we are very excited to come out with the win today," Orange head coach John Desko said. "My hat is off to [Duke coach] John Danowski and his group. I think they are a much different team than we played the first go-around."
Kevin Rice led the Orange with three goals and four assists. He finished the weekend with 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists) to win tournament most outstanding player honors. Randy Staats and Nicky Galasso also had three goals apiece for Syracuse. Staats added two assists to finish with five points.
The trio led a balanced Orange offense that received a combined eight goals from its midfield, including one apiece from reserves Tim Barber, Nick Weston and Derek DeJoe.
The well-rounded effort was key to helping the Orange overcome the Blue Devils, who grabbed the early lead thanks to some hot shooting. Duke scored on six of its eight shots in the first quarter to claim a 6-2 advantage after the opening period. The Blue Devils (11-5) scored five consecutive goals in the stanza, including two each by Case Matheis and Jack Bruckner.
The Orange turned the tables in the second quarter. Syracuse outscored the Blue Devils 7-1 in the period to surge in front 9-7 at halftime. SU recorded the first five goals of the quarter, and Rice had one goal and three assists during the frame to ignite the Orange offense.
In the third quarter, both sides scored three times as Syracuse maintained a two-goal edge (12-10) heading into the final 15 minutes.
Duke's Myles Jones opened the fourth-quarter scoring with an unassisted goal at the 12:09 mark to close the gap to one, but Staats made the play of the day by diving to bat a rebound past Duke goalie Danny Fowler, pushing the Orange lead back to two, 13-11, with 9:48 left.
Staats' acrobatic, extra-man goal sparked a 3-1 Orange run that Barber capped with 3:15 to play when he scored unassisted to give SU a 15-12 advantage.
Down three goals with less than three minutes left, the Blue Devils continued to charge. Thomas Zenker and Jones scored 24 seconds apart to get Duke back within one, but the Orange defense rose to the challenge in the final minutes.
After Jones' goal made it 15-14, Kyle Rowe won the ensuing faceoff for Duke. The Blue Devils maintained possession for nearly the rest of the game, but Syracuse fought off four Duke shots before Paolo Ciferri clinched the title by winning the race to the end line to give the Orange the ball after an errant shot by Matheis with 10 seconds left.
Orange goalie Bobby Wardwell tallied eight saves to earn the win. After giving up six goals in the first quarter, Wardwell had seven stops in the next two periods. His play helped turn the tide as Syracuse outscored the Blue Devils in the second and third quarters, 10-4.
Bruckner led Duke with five goals, while Jones contributed three goals and two assists.
Fowler absorbed the loss. He recorded six saves, including four in the second half.
After going 0-for-4 with the man-advantage in the semifinals against North Carolina, Syracuse converted on three of its four extra-man opportunities against the Blue Devils.
Duke, on the other hand, failed to capitalize on its man-up chances and went 0-for-3. Syracuse successfully killed two extra-man opportunities in the second half, including a two-man advantage down the stretch.
By virtue of its victory Sunday, Syracuse receives the ACC's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, which gets underway with two play-in games on May 6.