DURHAM, N.C. – These are trying times for the Duke Blue Devils men’s lacrosse team – both on and off the field.
On Friday night with just under 4,000 people in attendance at Koskinen Stadium, the 11th-ranked Blue Devils faced Tobacco Road rival No. 17 North Carolina (6-4, 1-0), and came up on the losing end of a 17-16 overtime finish.
Patrick Kelly’s low shot beat Duke keeper Danny Fowler and decided the fourth straight one-goal game between the two teams dating back to the 2013 ACC Championship semifinal which the Tar Heels claimed 18-17.
The game-winning goal developed after UNC freshman keeper Colin Reder, who came into the game late in the second quarter and finished with 10 saves, made his biggest stop on Myles Jones in overtime that facilitated the clear to set it all up.
After such a finish, I waited along with a handful of media members and each team’s communications director to talk to players and coaches in their respective locker rooms.
That’s the routine at Koskinen as no formal press conference area is set up – it all takes place in the heart of where the sweat and raw emotions of victory and defeat collect.
While it normally takes about 10-15 minutes or so for coaches to talk with their teams before offering their perspective on the game – what went right, what didn’t – on this night, it took longer.
Jones, who finished the game tying a Duke record after posting five goals and six assists, along with attackman Justin Guterding who scored four goals, talked first.
They had just played in their third straight overtime game, having lost 10-9 to Air Force before rebounding with an emotional 16-15 win over Syracuse last Saturday.
The wear and tear of another close game was evident in their body language, but they answered the questions posed to them exceptionally well.
“With a week to prepare, we knew we what they were about,” Jones said.
“We had a tough time covering and then we didn’t get our shots down the stretch when we needed those opportunities to cash in for us. Going forward, we’re gonna work on those things that didn’t help us. Tough game – at the end we just couldn’t put it in the back of the net.”
“They threw a zone at us,” Guterding added.
“Leading up to the game, they told us to expect the unexpected. To be honest, I don’t think we expected that. We’re gonna work on it to get better. We’re not giving up on the season. We still have half the ACC to go, so we’re gonna fight and we’re gonna do whatever it takes.”
The clock continued past 20 minutes and there was still no sign of Danowski coming out of the office where he and his coaches usually debrief following a game.
He normally would be in the room listening to his players responding before fielding questions himself, but he wasn’t.
We continued to wait.
Knowing that I needed to find out how the other side felt, I proceeded to North Carolina’s locker room.
Obviously, there was no problem in getting a response from Steve Pontrello who scored a career-high six goals and paced the Tar Heels offense.
“I’m so proud of this team, the hard work we put in this week definitely put us in that position to win,” the attackman said.
“Our guys just hung in tough, “head coach Joe Breschi added.
“Some of the adjustments that we made, specifically the zone, and Colin Reder comes in and plays spectacular, and taking advantage of some transition really helped us. Hats off to Duke, they’re a hell of a program and hell of a team.”
I headed back to Duke’s locker room hoping to catch the tail end of Danowki’s comments to those who continued to wait.
I didn’t miss anything as apparently he had left even before his SID and media entered the room nearly a half hour earlier.
Thus, no comment from the bench leader following another emotional game that left his team sitting with a 7-5 record, 1-2 in ACC play.
The three-time NCAA-champion and current Team USA coach was unavailable for comment following a loss to his program’s biggest rival.
I was shocked, a little annoyed, but more taken aback by Danowski’s actions in that instant.
Getting his comments were important to paint the full picture of what happened.
Instead, a different picture has to be drawn up.
His actions didn’t make sense and I never expected it, although he wasn’t available for comment following Duke’s 12-10 loss to Richmond earlier this season either.
He didn’t even indicate a non-desire to speak to the media with a simple “no comment at this time”.
He just left.
Thus, it’s apparent that this is no longer an exception, but a habit to avoid answering questions from the media following a tough loss.
The story now is not just what is wrong with Duke on the field, but what is going wrong off of it.
I’ll be honest, it’s all puzzling in my mind.
It was a great game by all standards in terms of excitement and drama for those watching both on site and on television – for UNC and Duke fans alike – win or lose.
I was witness to another great Duke/North Carolina game as I have been for each of the previous ones, and my pregame prediction that it would go to overtime was correct.
Choosing the winner was a toss-up considering the season both teams have been playing, but with talent at both ends of the field, a lot of goals would be and were scored.
I always look forward to hearing what both Breschi and Danowski offer up after each game, and particularly so after their teams play one another.
“It’s a rivalry game,” Breschi said.
“Biggest rivalry in sports – it was Duke/Carolina. Just a great overall effort.”
I heard from Breschi, and now, still waiting to hear from Danowski.