6 Goals by Brennan O'Neill Help Duke End Cinderalla Michigan's Run


Brennan O'Neill scored six times in Saturday's NCAA quarterfinal.

ALBANY, N.Y. — Top-seeded Duke endured a harrowing first-round experience in the NCAA tournament.

That one-goal defeat of Delaware was more of an ordeal than a triumph, but it paid off a week later in Saturday’s quarterfinals.

Duke never trailed, as Brennan O’Neill scored six goals in a 15-8 defeat of unseeded Michigan before 4,224 at Casey Stadium, booking passage to the program’s fourth appearance on Memorial Day Weekend since 2018 and its 14th overall.

“We had young guys who had never played [in the tournament] before, sophomores who had never been in a playoff game,” O’Neill said. “I think we were very tense last week. Guys were even saying in the locker room, after you get one under your belt, you feel good and now you know what to expect. … I think there was a little more calm.”

The Blue Devils (15-2), who tied Cornell and North Carolina for the fifth most semifinal appearances, will face either fifth-seeded Penn State (10-4) or unseeded Army (13-3) next Saturday at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.

Josh Zawada had two goals and an assist for the Wolverines (10-7), who were making their first NCAA tournament appearance in their 12th season as a varsity program. Michigan was 5-6 in mid-April before ripping off five victories in a row, a stretch that included a Big Ten tournament title and a first-round upset of eighth-seeded Cornell.

Jacob Jackson and Peter Thompson also scored twice for the Wolverines.

“What Team 12 did for Michigan lacrosse far exceeds 15-to-8,” Michigan coach Kevin Conry said. “That’s really what we have to take away from this. We’ve set a new standard in Ann Arbor for men’s lacrosse, and I couldn’t be prouder. Sure, we’d like to win this game, but ultimately, this is a huge step in the right direction for what we’re doing.”

The Wolverines averaged 15.8 goals during their winning streak but summoned few answers against goalie William Helm (14 saves) and the Blue Devil defense. Some of that was on Michigan; it committed 18 turnovers and never seemed to get fully comfortable.

But it was also a stellar day for a Duke defense that started off with the benefit of relatively even possession thanks to faceoff man Jake Naso’s work against Michigan’s tandem of Justin Wietfeldt and Nick Rowlett. Naso was 14 of 27, plenty good enough to avoid the imbalance many of the Wolverines’ recent opponents experienced.

The Blue Devils disrupted Michigan’s offensive flow, with defenseman Kenny Brower doing solid work on the potent Zawada. Duke also got fine work from sophomore Jack Gray and freshman Aidan Maguire, short sticks who developed as the Blue Devils navigated a six-game ACC schedule.

Michigan’s eight goals matched a season low. Meanwhile, Duke gave up two goals to Merrimack in its regular-season finale and then three in the second half of a 12-11 defeat of Delaware last week.

“You think you’re not playing good defense, but you’re playing against some really talented individuals and some really talented teams,” coach John Danowski said of the Blue Devils’ conference schedule. “Maybe that gets lost a little bit in the translation, but it also prepares you because you’ve seen everything.”

While Michigan didn’t record back-to-back goals after the first quarter and managed only three even-strength goals in the first three quarters, it managed to stay reasonably close even as O’Neill was in the middle of spurts throughout the game.

That changed on O’Neill’s behind-the-back goal with 10:17 to go to put Duke up 12-7. It ignited a four-goal run on an increasingly rainy afternoon to put the game away.

“When you have a team like that and you have a dude you can rely on and [you] just say, ‘Hey, late in the shot clock, backs against the wall, let’s give the ball to 34 and get out of the way,” Conry said. “I give a lot of credit to [Michigan defenseman Andrew] Darby. He really hung in there. The kid made some unbelievable plays.”

Andrew McAdorey and Dyson Williams both scored three goals for Duke, which is back to its usual spot: Playing on Memorial Day Weekend. It is the program’s 12th trip to the semifinals in 17 seasons under Danowski, and it comes a year after the Blue Devils missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in Danowski’s tenure.

This year’s bunch left little to chance in the regular season, leading the country in victories while earning the program’s first No. 1 seed since 2014. And after a nerve-fueled wobble in the opening weekend, Duke methodically cooled off Michigan to continue its return to the sport’s biggest stage after a one-year hiatus.

“It definitely drove us — a lot more intense fall, more hungry this time around,” O’Neill said. “I think when you go to school with the history Duke has, you expect to get it and we found out last year that just because you’re here it doesn’t mean anything. I think that really motivated us this whole season.”


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