In the end, Duke had too much Matt Danowski and Zack Greer.
The two senior attackmen combined for 20 points, and the Blue Devils put together a blistering third quarter to open up a tight game and easily defeat North Carolina, 19-11, yesterday in an NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament quarterfinal at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Danowski and Greer put on a show reminiscent of the days when midfielders Paul and Gary Gait were at Syracuse in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There were over-the-shoulder goals and elevator shots. There were quick, precise passes that dazzled the crowd of about 10,500. Danowski had four goals and six assists. Greer finished with seven goals and three assists.
And North Carolina walked away with more frustration. For the second time this season, the Tar Heels had a 6-1 lead over their fierce rival and lost. Yesterday, North Carolina (10-6) had a five-goal cushion early in the second quarter.
"It was a tale of two halves," Tar Heels coach John Haus said. "The Tar Heels played very well in the first half. We did what we needed to do to be successful. Quite frankly, in the second half they just blew us up."
How bad was it?
"We knew coming in that they had two of the best attackers in the country," North Carolina senior midfielder Fletcher Gregory said. "We drew up a couple of schemes to slow them down. We knew all along that they would get their points. It looks like they each had 10 points, which is absurd."
The plan was perfect in the first half, especially in the first quarter. The Tar Heels slowed Greer and Danowski because they won four of six faceoffs, which contributed to a 5-1 lead at the end of the quarter. North Carolina held an 8-5 lead at the half, but the Blue Devils (16-2) took control in the third quarter.
Greer scored on an extra-man goal with 13:18 left in the third quarter. Blue Devils midfielder Ned Crotty scored off a reverse spin about a minute later. Greer scored at the top of the crease on a feed from Danowski with 11:44 remaining, and Danowski scored on a runner with 9:42 left for a 9-9 tie.
Duke scored three more goals, including two in extra-man situations, in the quarter for a 12-9 lead.
In the third quarter alone, Duke converted on three of four extra-man opportunities as the Blue Devils outshot North Carolina 22-6.
"We have been down three times when playing North Carolina this year, but we try not to lose our cool, we take one game at a time," said Duke coach John Danowski, Matt's father. "Terrence Molinari stepped up with the faceoffs. UNC dominated faceoffs in the first half, but that sparked us, and I am extremely proud at how poised the boys kept it.
"And obviously having these two boys [Greer and Danowski] on the field doesn't hurt either."
Once Danowski scored the first two goals within the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, the game was virtually over. At one point, North Carolina went nearly 18 minutes without a goal until Michael Burns scored with 10:52 left in the game.
"Nobody freaked out. We stayed calm because we knew it was going to happen," Matt Danowski said of the scoring surge. "Our team has a huge amount of trust in each other, and if one part of our team is slacking, we all step up. The key to the game is no one freaking out. Just get out there and play."
Duke will play Cornell at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday in the NCAA semifinals. The teams met earlier this season, with Cornell winning, 7-6. But the Blue Devils are on an 11-game winning streak.
"We have a big game Saturday, and the focus has always been there, to win the national championship," Greer said. "We have to take a step back and stay focused on our goals."
North Carolina 5 3 1 2 - 11
Duke 1 4 7 7 - 19
Goals: NC-Burke 2, Petracca 2, Hunt 2, Walterhoefer 2, Tintle, Delaney, Burns. D-Greer 7, Danowski 4, Quinzani 3, Ross 2, Crotty 2, Carrington 2, Danowski 4, Ross. Assists: NC-Tintle 2, McAuley, Wagner. D-Danowski 6, Greer 3, Lamade 2, Krom, Quinzani, Ross. Saves: NC-Zimmerman 13. D-Loftus 9, Schroeder 1.