AMHERST, Mass. -- Five All-Americans graduated from the best Duke lacrosse team ever. The remaining Blue Devils have spent a year trying to convince people that they're just as good as the 1997 version, and now Scott Diggs and company will get the soapbox they wanted: another date with Princeton.
Seventh-seeded Duke beat North Carolina, 16-14, in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the University of Massachusetts yesterday, and it wasn't that close. The Blue Devils raced to a 5-1 lead and had a six-goal cushion with just over two minutes left, when their focus prematurely turned to tailing the Tigers.
Duke (11-3) will face two-time champ Princeton on Saturday at Hofstra, and the Blue Devils want to make amends for last year, when their first Final Four appearance saw them cough up a two-goal, fourth-quarter semifinal lead on the Tigers. Coach Mike Pressler lost a slew of superb veterans, but his program isn't about to fall off the map.
"We're a much different team," Pressler said. "We're better on offense. We're deeper. This is the best faceoff team we've ever had. On defense, we knew that the names and numbers were going to change, but those guys exceeded my expectations."
Pressler thought a quick start was imperative yesterday, to "bring some doubt back into the minds" of young North Carolina (7-8), which needed a three-game win streak just to get in the 12-team field. Diggs, the ace junior midfielder from Pasadena and Loyola High, provided the spark.
Diggs staked the Blue Devils to an 8-2 faceoff advantage in the first quarter, when Tar Heels goalie Jarron Harkness didn't know what didn't hit him. Four straight goals in a little more than five minutes staked Duke to its 5-1 lead.
"We gave them too many second opportunities," North Carolina coach Dave Klarmann said. "We also failed to get the ground balls on faceoffs when we were the first guy there. We had some freshmen on the wing, in their first playoff game, and maybe I shouldn't have put them out there. You live and learn."
Duke's first six goals came from as many players.
"We played within the offense," said Nick Hartofilis, whose four goals led Duke. "We moved the ball around. Early on, when we lost to Virginia, the coach and some players felt that we were being selfish, possessing the ball too long."
Nothing fazed the Blue Devils, who beat the buzzer in both the first and second quarters.
About the time Pressler was on his second cup of coffee yesterday morning, the site of the North doubleheader was switched from McGuirk Alumni Stadium to Richard F. Garber Field. Rain and indecision on a tarpaulin had turned the UMass football field into a quagmire, and the games were moved to its new artificial turf field.
"I think that worked in our favor," Diggs said. "We're a group of big, strong, athletic guys. A muddy field would negate our athleticism."
The switch just added to an odd coupling, as rivals separated by eight miles of Tobacco Road traveled 600 miles to get another swing at each other. This bout could have been stopped in the third quarter, but every time the Blue Devils extended their lead to six goals, the Tar Heels came back.
Unseeded North Carolina used a three-goal run to get within 13-10 with 11: 31 left, the last coming on an overhand, behind-the-back shot by Gilman's Chase Martin that solved an impossible angle.
Hartofilis, John Fay and Jared Frood stretched the difference right back to 16-10 with 5: 33 left. That was still the spread with 2: 01 left, when Justin Donaton began a belated four-goal rally that saw the Tar Heels finally win some faceoffs.
Yesterday was the Tar Heels' fifth straight loss in NCAA play, and their ninth straight to an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.
"I'd like to win an ACC game this decade," Klarmann cracked. "That's starting to wear thin."
North Carolina 3 1 4 6 -- 14
Duke .... .... 7 2 4 3 -- 16
Goals: NC--Martin 4, Kohart 3, Carey 2, Donaton 2, Walsh, Bowman, Crofton; D--N. Hartofilis 4, Fay 3, Frood 3, Durnan 3, Diggs 2, O'Donnell. Assists: NC--Bowman 2, Carey; D--O'Donnell, Frood, Dretler. Saves: NC--Harkness 11; D--Seyffer 15.
Men's Division I
Yesterday's first round
At Amherst, Mass.
Duke 16, North Carolina 14
Virginia 16, Hobart 10
Today's first round
At Johns Hopkins
Maryland vs. Butler, noon
UMBC vs. Georgetown, 3 p.m.*
Women's Division I
Maryland 13, J. Madison 8
Dartmouth 9, Loyola 8, 2 OTs
N. Carolina 11, Temple 10
Virginia 8, Princeton 7
Pub Date: 5/10/98