In a battle of two of the top ACC teams (being Duke and Virginia) on the 2019 NCAA Lacrosse Semifinal stage, it was the league’s regular season and tournament champion that ultimately prevailed, winning 13-12 in, wait for it, DOUBLE OVERTIME. But, ultimately, Duke Head Coach John Danowski summed things up as simply as they could be:
“They beat us. They clearly beat us. They were the ACC Champs for a reason.”
Duke Head Coach John Danowski
2019 NCAA Lacrosse Semifinal: That Winning Feeling for UVA
But how did things actually transpire? Because for much of this semifinal, Virginia did not look like they were the ACC champs at all.
This game started about as even as you would expect. Even though these teams only played once, there was still a bit of a feeling out period. For all the talent on the field, neither team really seemed willing to be the one to start forcing the tempo before the other. The game was back and forth with each team using their possessions to try something new. For Duke, that meant mixing up sweeps with shots from the alley, occasionally dodging from X to see where the slides were and how the defense recovered. For UVA, they we initiating from all over the field and constantly trying to feed the crease, but had little success. The quarter ended with a 2-1 Virginia lead, but it did not feel comfortable by any means.
Once the second quarter rolled around, Duke really stepped up their defensive pressure.
They were highly disruptive, which was taking Virginia out of their comfort zone, forcing them to find a new approach. But that new approach wouldn’t come for another quarter as they were blanked in the second. Duke on the other hand, used the extra possessions the defense gave them to get their scoring going. And the man that was getting the scoring going was coming from their usual spark: Nakeie Montgomery. Both of the goals to start the second were assisted by Montgomery, which were only opened up because of his early shooting. Brad Smith was still the leader in goals for the team, but Montgomery is the key player that fuels Duke when they’re at their best.
But, once the second half came, Virginia turned into a different team.
In this quarter, it was really the efforts of Matt Moore that started opening things up for the rest of the team. He had two goals from the same left side that both came at the exact time they were needed. This was no accident. Given their early struggles feeding the crease early on Virginia Head Coach Lars Tiffany said after the game:
“We needed to take some outside shots…Instead of throwing through or over the defense, we needed the outside shots to spread out the defense. This was Moore, also getting Dox and Contrad to hit some of those outside shots. Uppgren was making more saves, but they had to get them out of the tight defense.”
Virginia Head Coach Lars Tiffany
If that was the goal for the third quarter, it was mission accomplished.
As the fourth quarter rolled around, it was more of the same, but now it became all about Dox Aitken and Laviano. The two combined for four of UVA’s five goals in the frame, and Laviano was the beneficiary of more room inside. It was most important on his game tying goal with 15 seconds left, which was a feed from X by Matt Moore to a cutting Laviano. Through the middle. It was the exact type of play they had been trying to open up all game.
When overtime rolled around, the faceoff momentum stayed in the direction of Virginia who came alive in the second half. But faceoffs are only good if you do something with them. In this case, they turned it over to Duke who owned most of the clock in the first overtime period. Duke had their chances, but could not put the ball into the net. UVA had their second chance gaining possession with just thirty seconds left, but also was unable to get the shot they needed. The second overtime had significantly less gamesmanship. UVA won the faceoff and settled it down. Matt Moore took it from behind the cage, initiated from the right wing, and fed Laviano inside for the game winner.
The win sent Virginia to their first title game since winning it all in 2011. Given the short turnaround between games, being a team that ended as strongly as they did by scoring 10 second-half goals should not be ignored. It’s also a big jump since they are not far removed from a multi-year winless drought in the ACC.
The one who was really smiling in that press conference was Lars Tiffany. The former Brown coach, who lost in the Final Four, but has found redemption at the 2019 NCAA Lacrosse Semifinals, described the overall experience in this way:
“I sat in this room three years ago after losing a semi in overtime. The margin (in terms of score) is so close, it being on the opposite side now, but the range in emotion is so big. It’s almost not fair.”
Virginia Head Coach Lars Tiffany