The No. 8 Virginia men’s lacrosse team has been in a slump ever since its win against Syracuse March 1. In an effort to turn its season around and qualify for the ACC Tournament against No. 2 Duke — a team that has given them trouble in the past — the high-octane Blue Devil offense overpowered the Cavaliers, 17-15. “We just have to get sharper,” coach Dom Starsia said. “We don’t have anybody playing like a first team All-American. We have to be better as a group.” The Blue Devils (11-3, 4-1 ACC) started fast, taking just more than a minute to score their first of the day after senior midfielder Brendan Fowler won the opening faceoff — a theme the Cavaliers (8-5, 1-4 ACC) became all too used to. Fowler won 22-35 — 63 percent — on the day. The Cavaliers tried to make up for their deficiency at the faceoff X by successfully clearing all 17 attempts and committing just two turnovers to Duke’s 16, but ultimately came up short. “When you’re not winning faceoffs — we talked about it last week, the opposite way — you’ve got to be very good clearing the ball,” Starsia said. “Picking the ball off the ground. I thought we were in both those instances.” A goal by senior midfielder Rob Emery at the 11:21 mark in the first quarter knotted the score at 1-1. Roughly five minutes later, sophomore attackman James Pannell scored a transition goal to put Virginia up 2-1. Senior defenseman Scott McWilliams and freshman midfielder Zed Williams added two goals to give Virginia a 4-3 lead at the end of the opening period. Sophomore midfielder Zach Wood scored his fifth goal of the season to start the second quarter. Williams then netted his second of the day less than a minute after a Duke goal to retake a two-goal lead at 6-4. From there, Duke seized the momentum and finished the half on a 6-1 run. Four different players scored during the run as the Blue Devils took a 10-6 lead with 18 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Junior midfielder Ryan Tucker scored with two seconds remaining to stymie the bleeding and take Virginia into the half down 10-7. “They just made some adjustments,” sophomore defender Tanner Scales said. “They came out a little slow, but they just started playing like they can and we were just a couple short.” The Virginia defense noticeably struggled, switching between man and zone defenses in an effort to slow Duke. Freshman goalkeeper Matt Barrett had just one save in the second quarter and three at the half, later pulled in favor of sophomore goaltender Dan Marino. “I don’t blame Matt for a lot of those goals,” Starsia said. “I was hopeful that by making a change, we might get a little spark there.” Junior midfielder Tyler German pulled Virginia within two goals to begin the second half. However, Duke scored three straight goals to grab a 13-8 lead with just more than five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Two straight goals by senior attackmen Mark Cockerton and German brought Virginia within three at the end of the third quarter. Sophomore midfielder Greg Coholan then gave the Cavalier faithful a glimpse of hope when he snuck a shot between Duke sophomore goalkeeper Luke Aaron less than a minute into the final quarter. But Duke scored four of the next five goals to take a 17-12 lead with 6:24 left to play. With less than four minutes to play, the quiet Klöckner crowd soon came to life when Virginia went on a late three-goal run. Pannell netted his second and third of the day to bring Virginia within three with 3:08 to play. A Coholan goal with 2:29 remaining cut the Duke lead to 17-15. But the Virginia comeback effort fell short when a crease shot by Cockerton went wide with less than a minute remaining, allowing Duke to run out the clock and secure the win. “I think we had a chance to win right until the end,” Starsia said. The 17 goals allowed by the Cavaliers was their second most all season. Duke senior attackman Jordan Wolf came into the game leading Duke in scoring with 56 points, but several other players chipped in. Four different Blue Devils netted hat-tricks, with sophomore midfielder Myles Jones leading the way with four goals and two assists. “They’re probably the best offensive team we’ve faced all year, and we came up a couple short today,” Scales said. “A few mental breakdowns here and there and against a great team like Duke, they’re going to punish you for that and they did that tonight.” Despite being eliminated from the ACC Tournament and dropping their fourth conference game, the Cavaliers feel that they are improving. The past two games — against North Carolina and Duke — have both been games they had a chance to win. Virginia had 19 more shots than the Blue Devils, but the offense was just unable to convert. Other signs are encouraging according to Starsia, such as the low turnover total and going 3-4 on extra-man opportunities. The coach said if the Cavaliers can fix a few small weaknesses, they might be poised for a run in the NCAA Tournament. “I told the kids afterwards, ‘We’re close. We’re right there,’” Starsia said. “We’re getting better. The last two weeks I feel we’ve played the two best teams we’ve seen all year. We’ve battled them down to the wire. We have to keep playing and getting better, and hope that we get another opportunity.” Virginia returns to Klöckner Saturday for its final home game of the season and Senior Day against Bellarmine. Opening faceoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.