The win advanced the Blue Devils to their first championship game since 2010. They will face Syracuse in the final at 1 p.m. Monday at the Linc. Duke has advanced to the semifinals in all seven seasons under coach John Danowski.
"Playing with a 14-7 lead is not easy," Danowski said. "It sounds like it might be, but it's not. And certainly the Cornell kids really played hard, really revved it up. Our guys withstood the hits and made some plays in the end."
The Big Red (14-4) failed to become the fourth consecutive unseeded team to reach the finals.
Even in defeat, Cornell's Rob Pannell had the game's most dominant performance.
The favorite to win the Tewaaraton Award, which is lacrosse's version of the Heisman Trophy, Pannell finished with a game-high five goals and two assists. His seven points enabled him to establish the NCAA record for career points (354).
"The record is what it is," said an emotional Pannell, who took 20 shots. "I'd give up everything I've achieved individually to be able to play on Monday."
Cornell opened the game by scoring five of the first seven goals. But Duke responded with a 12-1 run to take a commanding 14-6 lead with 2:22 remaining in the third quarter. Thirteen seconds later, Pannell ended the Big Red's scoreless drought of 15:07 with what was his third goal of the game. That jump-started an 8-1 run.
Cornell's final goal was an unassisted score by Connor Buczek to close the gap to 15-14 in the closing minute. Dominating play, Cornell outshot Duke 19-4 in the fourth quarter.
"We just kind of had to hold them off for the last few minutes," said Blue Devils goalie Kyle Turri, who had 16 saves. "We knew they weren't going to sit back. They were going to make a run."
The Blue Devils had nine players score. Eight had assists.
Jake Tripucka (three goals and an assist), David Lawson (two goals, two assists), and Josh Dionne (two goals) joined Wolf as Duke's multiple-goal scorers.
Contact Keith Pompey at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @pompeysgridlock.