SU falters after first half lead, loses national championship to Duke

After a strong 5-0 start, SU's inability to win faceoffs and overpower Duke led to the 16-10 loss.

PHILADELPHIA - It happened all season: Syracuse would get dominated in faceoffs, but its efficient offense and strong goaltending helped compensate for the fewer possessions.

But in the National Championship matchup against Duke, the Orange’s inability to win a faceoff became too much to overcome. After a 5-0 start by the Orange, top-seeded Syracuse (16-4) was outscored 16-5, as its quest for a 12th national championship ended in a 16-10 loss to seventh-seeded Duke (16-5).

Photo: Courtesy of SU Athletics
Syracuse's Kevin Rice faces his Duke opponent during Monday's NCAA national title game in Philadelphia.

“We had the early lead in the game, and we were feeling good about things,” Syracuse head coach John Desko said, “We just couldn't get the ball in the second half.”

Just sixteen minutes into the game, Syracuse appeared to be streamlined for victory. The scoreboard read 5-0 in favor of the Orange. The Syracuse attack was scoring in a myriad of ways and goalkeeper Dominic Lamolinara was playing well with four early saves.

But as quickly as momentum had gone to Syracuse, it shifted to Duke, and it didn’t come back.

Duke responded to the five-goal deficit, cutting SU’s halftime lead to one, 6-5. Coming out of the locker room, the Orange had trouble finding the net. Duke went on a 7-1 run that included a 22-minute scoring drought for Syracuse. Syracuse was never able to recover from the hole.

The patient Duke offense maintained possession for the majority of the third quarter. The Syracuse attack that was in sync and clicking in the first quarter became inactive and overaggressive.

Over the second and third quarter, Duke won 14 out of 15 faceoffs, draining an exhausted Syracuse defense.

“We couldn’t get the ball to our offense,” Desko said multiple times following the loss.

The long Duke possessions ultimately wore out the Syracuse defense, senior Brian Megill said.

“It takes a toll on your body, especially when we played defense as much as we did in that third period” the Megill, an All-American defenseman, said.

In the fourth quarter, senior JoJo Marasco scored consecutive goals, closing the Duke lead to just four. It had the makings of another Syracuse comeback.

“Two quick ones in pretty fast, and we started rolling,” Marasco said. “Got the ball again, and it just didn't go our way at the end of the game.”

As Duke players celebrated, adorning their new shirts, Syracuse players walked off the field, some briskly, some slowly. A team that was just one win away from a national title fell just short.  Megill, after his last game in a Syracuse uniform spoke with perspective, saying, “We had a team.  We had a balanced team, and we used what we had very effectively and efficiently, and we did it all year long, and I'm just really proud of these guys, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.”

Ultimately, it was the inability to turn Duke over and the dominant work of Duke's Brendan Fowler that squashed Syracuse's chances of victory.

“We've been battling that game all year long and luckily we've been able to be on the winning end of it and make it this far with going in the underdog in the face‑off position every game,”  Megill said. “It's a real testament to this team and how we overcame adversity."

It happened all season. This time, though, there was a different outcome. 

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