NCAA Lacrosse 2014: Top-seeded Duke seeks to down Air Force

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Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

Peter Koutroumpis –

DURHAM, N.C. – The ECAC-champion Air Force Falcons landed an NCAA-Tournament first-round matchup with the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils at Koskinen Stadium on Sunday.

The Falcons (11-5) defeated the Atlantic Sun-champion Richmond Spiders 13-5 on Wednesday in one of the 2014 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship Tournament’s play-in games.

Air Force is making its first NCAA postseason appearance since 1988 while the defending NCAA-champion Blue Devils (13-3) are making their 18th overall and eighth consecutive.

With their third top-seed placement in seven years, the others being in 2007 and 2008, Duke knows that it doesn’t guarantee success.

In fact, the two championship titles that the Blue Devils claimed last year and in 2010 came about as a result of them starting as the seventh and fifth seeds respectively.

“The number one seed means nothing to anyone here,” Duke head coach John Danowski as his team prepared to practice on Thursday.

“All 16 teams are capable and you see that in all sports. You see that in our sport, all sports and professional sports. It’s just about your next opponent and preparation for that.”

Duke’s offense has averaged 14.50 goals per game with attackmen Jordan Wolf (51 goals) and Josh Dionne (43 goals) leading from the interior while Deemer Class (31 goals) and Myles Jones (27 goals) being reliable outside threats.

Dionne explained that the top seed was a recognition and respect for putting together a successful regular season against tough opposition.

The team found out its tournament placement while returning from its final regular-season game against the BU Terriers.

“Being on the plane, we were all together,” Dionne said.

“Everyone just started clapping, but it just shows that our body of work was complete and I think it’s just really a testament to Coach Danowski that everything kind of worked out as part of all of our hard work. We all know that with all of our work, it doesn’t mean much. Last year being the seven-seed, it was kind of fun showing people what we had. The first seed just makes our road a little easier being at Koskinen (to start). It just shows that our body of work was complete this year.”

Though Duke has put together another impressive regular season with its only losses coming to second-seeded Syracuse, recently ousted third-seed Loyola, and seventh-seeded Maryland, the Blue Devils will not take anything for granted against the Falcons.

Not having played against Air Force since 2007, the Blue Devils lead the all-time series between the two teams 4-2, but have never met the Falcons in postseason play.

Though Air Force has averaged three goals per game less than Duke, they still rank 14th nationally in scoring and take their fair share of shots on goal, the same 41 per game as the Blue Devils.

In goal for the Blue Devils, starter Luke Aaron is 12-3 with a .529 save percentage and a 9.59 goals against average while the tandem of Doug Gouchoe and Brett Dadiego split goaltending duties for the Falcons.

Gouchoe has seven starts and a 9.15 goals against average and a .500 save percentage while Dadiego owns nine starts, including the one against Richmond, with an 8.13 goals against average and a .510 save percentage.

While averaging almost a goal against less per game than the Blue Devils, Air Force will need to keep its stingy turnover total (12 per game) down, and force Duke to commit more than its average of 15 per game to really threaten for an upset to occur.

Understanding that Duke could take penalties when employing its aggressive defensive play, and without long stick midfielder Luke Duprey who’s highly doubtful to play according to Danwski, the Falcons could use their effective conversion of EMO’s to their advantage.

The Blue Devils will keep a close eye on Air Force’s shooters in attackmen Mike Crampton (45 goals) and Tommy McKee (30 goals) as well as set up-man Keith Dryer (31 assists) who can also help the team’s other 20-plus goal scorers in midfielders Erik Smith (24 goals), Kyle Cassady (24 goals), and Christopher Allen (21 goals) put shots on the Duke cage.

“Extremely dangerous,” Danowski stated of the Air Force offense after watching them on film.

“They’re good at what they’re good at. They play with a lot of energy are really as you can imagine an academy team – they seem to be tough-minded individuals. It’s an NCAA playoff game and we expect a 60-minute battle.”

NCAA Lacrosse: First-round pregame stats – Duke vs. Air Force

Category Duke Air Force
Overall Record 13-3 11-5
Shots/Game 41.2 41.4
Goals/Game 14.5 11.88
Assists/Game 8.56 6.69
Points/Game 23.1 18.6
Shot % 0.352 0.287
GAA 9.49 8.75
GBs/Game 35.7 29.2
EMO 22-55 (.400) 19-44 (.432)
Man Down 46-67 (.687) 32-57 (.649)
Clears 273-308 (.886) 220-258 (.853)
Faceoff % 253-434 (.583) 192-381  (.504)