Denver coach Bill Tierney has a tongue-in-cheek answer when asked about the team’s subpar showing on faceoffs with top-seeded Duke and senior extraordinaire Brendan Fowler awaiting on Saturday.
“We’re going to prepare the exact same way we prepared for Rutgers, North Carolina and Drexel,” Tierney said Tuesday morning during a conference call before the semifinals at M&T Bank Stadium. “We’re going to assume that we’re going to lose every faceoff and then go from there.”
Clearly, that’s not how Tierney truly feels about the fifth-seeded Pioneers’ faceoff unit, which has won just 47.3 percent (194-of-410). And that area has seen some improvement courtesy of Chris Hampton.
In his last four starts, the sophomore has won 63.2 percent (55-of-87) of his draws. He outdueled Rutgers’ Joseph Nardella and Drexel’s Nick Saputo – a pair of faceoff specialists who were statistically much better than Hampton – and was just slightly under 50 percent against North Carolina’s duo of R.G. Keenan and Frankie Kelly.
The task for Hampton (51.7 percent on 134-of-259 and 63 ground balls) does not get easier against Fowler (59.5 percent on 273-of-459 and 177 ground balls), who propelled the Blue Devils (15-3) to last year’s national title. But Tierney expressed his trust in Hampton and his wing players.
“If Chris can battle as he has done in those three games, it would be a huge, huge boon to our opportunity to try and succeed,” Tierney said. “On the other hand, our approach all year has been to try to battle for 40 percent and not to give up any fast breaks off the faceoff, and that’s what we’ll continue to do. Brendan is, if not the finest, he’s certainly in the top two or three in the country in facing off. He literally carried his team on his back last year to win the national championship, and he’s the same guy. He’s a monster. He’s a great kid and a very talented faceoff guy, and we know we’ve got our hands full. But Chris Hampton has shown in the last month or so that through a lot of hard work and a lot of bulldog-type effort, he can scrap, too. We’re not going to apologize for our kids being here, and we’re not going to apologize for our success.”