Greer's goal at :03 ends Cornell rally, sends Duke forward

Duke 12 Cornell 11

NCAA lacrosse final four

May 27, 2007|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,Sun Reporter

The situation for Duke was dire. The Blue Devils were uptight, confused and stunned. And their opponent in yesterday's NCAA men's lacrosse semifinal, Cornell, was rolling. The Big Red had just rallied from a seven-goal deficit in the second half and tied the game with 17 seconds remaining.

It looked as if the crowd of 52,004 at M&T Bank Stadium was about to witness one of the most surprising comebacks - and collapses - in NCAA tournament history.

Instead, Duke did two things it has done better than any other team this season: strike quickly and finish strong.

The Blue Devils won the faceoff and midfielder Peter Lamade whipped the ball to attackman Zack Greer, who was posting up his defender like a power forward 10 yards in front of the goal. Greer, a left-hander and possibly the best finisher in the sport, shimmied to his right, then spun to his left. With three seconds remaining, he blasted a shot under the stick of Cornell goalie Matt McMonagle and into the net.

Ballgame. Good for a 12-11 Blue Devils victory and a berth in tomorrow's title game against Johns Hopkins.

"All game, they were trying to cover me with a short stick, and he was doing a great job," said Greer, who scored four times and added an assist. "I just had to play by instincts. We didn't have much time. ... It was an unbelievable pass, right on my stick, and all I had to do was turn and throw it in."

It was a dramatic swing, but fitting, considering that the game was full of them.

For much of the afternoon, top-seeded Duke (17-2) had its way with Cornell (15-1), which was trying to become the third straight team to go undefeated and win a national title, after Virginia (2006) and Johns Hopkins (2005).

But the Blue Devils held the fourth-seeded Big Red - which had the top-scoring offense in the country coming into the game - scoreless for 29 straight minutes from the last moments of the first quarter through the third quarter.

Duke built a 10-3 lead, getting three goals from Greer during the run, but it was two scores by Blue Devils long-pole defensemen Parker McKee and Nick O'Hara that put Cornell on its heels.

Big Red coach Jeff Tambroni made a decision not to have his players run at Duke's defensemen in transition when they had the ball, preferring that they stick with Greer, Max Quinzani and Matt Danowski, and twice before halftime, it burned him.

"We wanted their defensive personnel to beat us, not Matt Danowki, Quinzani and Greer," Tambroni said. "And to their credit, they did. And it was unfortunate, because those two goals at the end of the half proved to be a major difference-maker in the second half. ... Blame the coaches for those two goals, for sure."

When Duke midfielder Fred Krom scored with 3:46 remaining in the third quarter - on an assist from Greer - it looked as if it was time for Blue Devils fans to start tailgating early. But one possession at a time, Cornell chipped away at Duke's lead.

"I told this team [at halftime] that as long as we chip away and win the third and fourth quarters, we would be in position to win," Tambroni said. "To their credit, they never lost faith in each other."

David Mitchell scored three times for Cornell during an 8-1 run. The Big Red adjusted its shots and fired low on goalie Dan Loftus, who battled cramps in the second half. With each Cornell score, Duke seemed to let the pressure affect its play. In the final two minutes, Danowski, possibly the nation's best player, turned it over twice.

That gave Cornell one final chance. Senior midfielder Brian Clayton capitalized by whipping the game-tying goal past Loftus with 17 seconds left. That set up Greer's closing heroics.

"We saw what happened to our girls team yesterday, and that was obviously in the back of our mind," Greer said, alluding to the fact that the Duke women's team blew a 13-4 second-half lead in a semifinal loss to Virginia. "I caught [the pass] and thought I didn't have too much angle, but there was a little post near-side open. I just made it."

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

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