Duke head coach John Danowski had noticed during pregame warmups that midfielder Brad Smith had not made an outside shot before the Blue Devils’ game against Loyola Maryland.
So, he jokingly went over and dropped a hint.
“He told me, don’t worry, he was saving it for the game,” Danowski said, smiling.
And so he did. Smith, a junior, and senior midfielder Peter Conley combined for eight goals and four assists as No. 3 Duke defeated No. 7 Loyola, 13-9, before a crowd of 2,041 at Ridley Athletic Complex.
Loyola (4-2) has made a lot of progress under 13-year head coach Charley Toomey, including a national title in 2012. But it’s hard for small schools such as Loyola and Towson to compete with big schools such as Maryland, Duke (6-1) and Syracuse, especially those universities with nationally ranked football programs.
The Greyhounds simply don’t match up well physically with teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference or the Big Ten. Those teams are usually bigger, faster, stronger and have more depth.
Loyola couldn’t contain Conley and Smith, who physically dominated the Greyhounds at times by muscling them outside the crease for goals.
There were other times when both just launched 20- to 30-yard shots from the outside that Loyola goalie Jacob Stover (McDonogh) couldn’t handle.
“They got eight goals from their first midfield and we can’t just leave our short-sticks on an island,” Toomey said. “They are both strong and fast, and we left our guys out there without any help. We wanted to slide, clamp and get the ball out of their sticks. But sometimes when you go with two poles, that leaves attackmen on short-sticks.”
There were times when Conley and Smith looked like basketball players in the low post taking on Loyola midfielders Brian Begley and Jared Mintzlaff. Conley, a transfer from Georgetown, scored two goals in the fourth quarter, the last one with 8:51 left in the game to put Duke ahead, 13-7.
But it just wasn’t at those two positions where Duke held an advantage in size and athleticism. Loyola prides itself on forcing turnovers and turning those into goals because the Greyhounds can outrun and outhustle a lot of teams. But the Blue Devils committed 22 turnovers Saturday and they were still fast enough to get back on defense to slow Loyola’s fast breaks.
Duke had only won 64 of 156 faceoffs going into the game, but won 17 of 25 on Saturday.
They had more power and speed on the wings. Duke had an advantage on defense with two top players in JT Giles-Harris and Cade Van Raaphorst. The Blue Devils also had two other strong offensive players in attackman Justin Guterding and midfielder Nakeie Montgomery.
“JT is a sophomore who gets better every week and Cade had the unenviable task of playing [Loyola attackman Pat Spencer], and he did an admirable job,” Danowski said. “Kevin McDonough has very good feet and didn’t get run by today. He did a very good job.”
Lacrosse likes to brag about the balance in the sport and there is more than there was 15 to 20 years ago. But a lot of the blue-chip players still go to the bigger schools, which is why Ohio State came from nowhere years ago to a national championship contender and why a lot of lacrosse fans are predicting the same fortune for Michigan.
When recruits go to those schools and they see a packed stadium for a Saturday football game in the fall or the recognition those schools receive, it’s a huge advantage.
Schools such as Loyola, Towson, Albany and Hofstra can still compete, but it’s hard to be a serious contender every year. That’s why the smaller schools love to play in conferences with other small schools because it levels the playing field as far as getting into the NCAA tournament and possibly winning the title.
Before Saturday’s game, Begley said the Greyhounds had to be cautious with Duke because the Blue Devils liked to put their players in position where they can “out-athlete” the opposition.