With eye black smeared on their faces and their hair bleached blond and cut in every type of exotic style, Ohio State lacrosse players looked as though they were ready to party like rock stars after they barged their way into the team’s first appearance in the NCAA Final Four.
The Buckeyes knocked around Duke, one of the pillars of the sport, for a 16-11 victory Saturday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.
The team also reached the Elite Eight in 2015, ’13 and ’08 and lost each time.
Attacker Eric Fannell, who led with five goals and two assists, made the most emotional statement during an otherwise toned-down Ohio State news conference.
“It’s a feeling of a lifetime,’’ Fannell said. “I don’t expect it to end without making more history. I love these guys.’’
Coach Nick Myers could comment only on the nuts and bolts of the physical, fast-paced game and not the enormous step his program made.
“I’m not sure I’ve got to that reflection point,’’ he said. “This team from day one has been so centered to the mission. I want to get every ounce out of these guys that I can get.’’
The next step is a national semifinal against the winner of Sunday's Syracuse-Towson game on Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Ohio State (15-4) hit Duke (13-5) with its game of muscle and athleticism of Jake Withers winning face-offs, attackers and midfielders making a bee-line to the goal and defensemen denying shots or forcing shots from poor angles.
Fannell scored three times as the Buckeyes led 4-1 with 12:37 left in the second quarter.
Withers won seven straight face-offs in the second quarter at one point, and that powered Ohio State to a 9-4 lead at halftime. He won 18 of 30 face-offs for the game.
“Every possession is as critical as the next, and that’s how we played it,’’ he said.
Duke attacker Justin Guterding came in with 49 goals, but 6-foot-4 junior defenseman Erik Evans held him to two goals.
“They are a tough team and we picked a bad day to have a bad day,’’ Guterding said. “They just out-toughed us today, I guess.’’
When the Blue Devils did get clean shots, goalkeeper Tom Carey deflected or caught them. He had 14 saves, two in man-down situations and three during a Duke possession in the third quarter that last more than 2½ minutes.
“I think we played with a lot of ownership,’’ Carey said. “I thought we executed pretty well today.’’
Myers was confident the Buckeyes would be on task and not tight going into a point of the tournament that had been a dead end for the program.
“This was the hurdle we hadn’t gone over and we knew it without saying it,’’ he said. “There was a belief all week long. We were hard on each other as we always are in terms of expectations and standards. I thought we were able to set a tone early.’’