BY RYAN GIBB
When attackman Mike Robinson dazzled Delaware’s men’s lacrosse faithful on Wednesday with a behind-the-back score on the way to a whopping seven goals on the night, a touch of flair was added to his team’s dominance. The internet (and SportsCenter) took notice, but Robinson had a level head when discussing his shot-taking.
“Goalies at this level are really good,” said Robinson postgame. “You have to do whatever you can to get an advantage on them.”
Playing with his usual deep bag of tricks, Robinson surpassed fellow attackman Tye Kurtz’ five goals to make himself the Blue Hens’ new top goal-scorer in any NCAA tournament game.
The Blue Hens’ avalanche of offense, keyed by 17 goals in the second and third quarters combined, buried the Marist Red Foxes 25-10 in an NCAA tournament opening round mismatch.
Coming into the bracket, Delaware was hot, having won its fifth Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament championship all-time and second in a row for an automatic-qualifying spot.
The men in blue and white played with a chip on their shoulder in their second straight relegation to the NCAA opener, tallying a staggering 25 goals to tie the second-highest output in single-game NCAA tournament history. 14 were scored by halftime, the third-most goals ever totaled in a half in Delaware Stadium.
With four goals by JP Ward (A) and hat tricks from Cam Acchione (M) and Nick Jessen (M), the Hens presented all 1,857 fans, Delaware’s highest attendance since hosting Penn State in 2011, with polished offense, scoring in transition, setpieces and man-up conversions.
On the back end, second overall Premier Lacrosse League draft pick Owen Grant garnered six ground balls and an assist. Goalie Matt Kilkeary earned his 13th win in 17 starts, posting nine saves.
Head coach Ben DeLuca hopes to lead Delaware to its first-ever national championship, but a familiar roadblock awaits well in advance of Memorial Day.
After taking Delaware to the NCAA quarterfinals in last year’s tournament, DeLuca will now face a former team, Duke, with which he won the 2014 NCAA championship as an assistant under longtime Blue Devils head coach John Danowski.
“He’s a great friend, a phenomenal mentor,” DeLuca said of Danowski. “One of the best, if not the best, to ever do it.”
DeLuca and his team will head to Duke for a May 14 gameday, leaving them four days to get things in order and prepare for one of the most electric teams in college lacrosse.
Despite the small window for preparation, Grant trusts that his team will be ready Sunday, as it has been exposed to tight deadlines before.
“I think over the last two years here, our team has really thrived on quick turnarounds,” Grant said. “We’re very committed to being focused and we’ve shown that in two conference tournaments, [and in] last year’s NCAA tournament, so we hope that carries into this weekend.”
In the 2022 NCAA tournament, Delaware faced an identical preliminary-rounds itinerary when it had to travel to two-seed Georgetown four days after defeating Robert Morris in the opening round.
The Hens’ experience and leadership in big moments will make for an interesting matchup against top-seeded Duke.
DeLuca believes his team is ready for the return to upset-hunting in the first round.
“Our guys have worked extremely hard during their time here, learning how to manage adversity, rise to the occasion, rise to the challenges that we put in front of them, and I just love the way they compete,” the sixth-year head man said. “I know they’ll be ready.”
Delaware faces off with Duke in Durham, North Carolina Sunday, May 14 at 5:00 p.m. ET on ESPNU.