In its first NCAA tournament game since 2011, Duke wanted to be sure it would not fall victim to an early exit.

And despite facing off against a dangerous team in a game that became increasingly chippy as the minutes wore on, the Blue Devils succeeded.

No. 6 seed Duke beat Florida International 2-1 Sunday night at Koskinen Stadium in the second round of the NCAA tournament after earning a first-round bye. The Blue Devils relied on their typical stingy defense and a couple moments of magic from junior Max Moser and freshman Kristófer Garðarsson to prevail against a physical Panthers squad.

The Blue Devils came out with a different lineup due to the absence of defensive linchpin Markus Fjørtoft, who missed the game after picking up a red card in Duke’s ACC tournament loss. This forced senior Carter Manley to slide into the center back position on the back line, and sophomore Jack Doran took his place on the outside. 

“Carter is a very talented player on both sides of the ball,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “He’s very equipped to play the ball long with his left or right, he can play it short either way and he’s got a lot of experience and recovery speed as well, reads the game well. He was the obvious choice.”

It was an up-and-down first half for the Blue Devils (12-4-2) as they took some time to settle into their new lineup, conceding several early chances, but they settled down and largely took charge as the match continued. 

Duke was temporarily denied midway through the half when junior Ciaran McKenna had a point-blank shot saved by Florida International goalkeeper Hugo Fauroux in the 16th minute off a beautiful cross from senior Kevon Black. 

But the Blue Devils got on the board shortly after on a free kick by Moser. Duke won a free kick 30 yards out from goal, and the Brengenz, Austria, native stepped up to take it. He unleashed a curling shot into the near-post side netting that confused Fauroux so much that he did not even make an effort to save it. 

After the goal, the game largely turned into a stalemate, with Duke having the majority of possession, but both teams unable to create many real chances. 

The second half was largely uneventful for the first 25 minutes, but exploded into fireworks later on. 

Garðarsson padded the Blue Devils’ lead in the 73rd minute with a curling finish from the top of the box following a centering pass from Suniel Verrakone, with Fauroux not even diving to make a save once again. It was the Akrankes, Iceland, native’s first goal at Duke and could hardly have come at a better time. 

“Heck of a goal by Kristófer Garðarsson to show his quality,” Kerr said. “Garðarsson shows every day in practice that he has that quality of striking the ball.”

The Panthers (12-1-4) struck back a few minutes later to make things interesting when Paul Marie beat the entire Blue Devil back line to a long ball and then finished past goalkeeper Will Pulisic to cut the deficit in half. It was Marie’s eighth goal of the season as one of the centerpieces of Florida International’s dangerous attack. 

The game slowed down in the last 10 minutes, as the Blue Devils tried to milk the clock and the Panthers pressed for an equalizer. The Panthers started to get chippy as the clock ticked away—the teams combined for 34 fouls during the game, culminating with Florida International defender Marvin Hezel being sent off in the 88th minute.

“Obviously, scary moments at the end, and we miskicked a couple balls and we made it interesting,” Kerr said. “But we held resolve and Will made a great save down there at the last second.” 

The win was Kerr’s 100th as Duke’s head coach, and he will aim for No. 101 in the Round of 16. The Blue Devils will face off against Fordham, which knocked off No. 11 seed Virginia in the second round, Saturday at 6 p.m. at Koskinen.