With more than a week to practice between a disappointing loss to Clemson in the ACC tournament quarterfinals and the announcement of their NCAA tournament seed, the Blue Devils waited patiently. 

After earning the No. 6 overall seed in its first tournament appearance since 2011 and its first time seeded since it was the No. 1 seed in 2006, Duke was given a first-round bye and is now set to take on Florida International Sunday at Koskinen Stadium at 6 p.m. The Panthers scored in the first minute of their opening-round game against Omaha and won 2-0.

“I’m delighted for the seniors, and for the group, that they’ve performed so well this year,” head coach John Kerr said. “They’ve earned the No. 6 seed in the tournament, and the trick for us now is to take advantage of it.”

With two weeks between the loss to Clemson and the matchup with Florida International, Duke (12-4-2) had the opportunity to work on finishing scoring opportunities. The Blue Devils squandered countless chances against Clemson and were ultimately shut out despite their aggressive play.

But they have spent the last two weeks resting and practicing on the home turf where they will play as long as they stay alive in the tournament until at least the quarterfinals.

“It’s less traveling and easy on the legs,” senior forward Brian White said. “Also, the chance to play in front of our fans and our friends is a good opportunity for us because we’re comfortable at home. Hopefully we can win and keep moving on.”

The bye not only allowed players to practice hard, but it gave them time to scout Florida International (12-1-4) and watch how it played in the first round of the tournament, giving them a slight edge on the Panthers. Florida International is anchored by junior forward Santiago Patino, who is tied for the third-most goals in the nation.

The Panthers boast the top-ranked scoring offense in the country, led by Patino's 15 goals on the season. Florida International was the regular-season Conference USA champion, but fell to Charlotte in its only loss of the season in the conference semifinals. The Panthers earned at at-large berth to the tournament and certainly proved they belong against Omaha.

Patino and the dominant Florida International offense poses a challenge to a Duke defense that has been consistent in 2017. Freshman goalkeeper Will Pulisic holds a 0.763 save percentage, the best in the league, and has seven shutouts on the season.

Pulisic is joined on defense by seniors Markus Fjørtoft and Carter Manley, who anchor the back line as veteran leaders.

Although the Panthers have an explosive offense and have played high-scoring games all season, they have not encountered some of the competition that Duke has when playing high-ranked teams like Clemson, North Carolina and Louisville. The Blue Devils have battled all season for the opportunity they are faced with now.

“The players have made huge sacrifices, particularly last spring and into this fall,” Kerr said. “They made it their job to get back to this place where they want to be in the postseason. They deserve and earned every minute of where we are. It’s now a good opportunity for us to take advantage of what we’ve done in the past but also to move on and be in the present.”

No matter the opponent, this Duke team plans to use all the time it has had to prepare to continue its impressive season and move onto Round of 16, where it would play either No. 11 seed Virginia or Fordham. White’s message to the team, as a captain, is simple.

“Take it game by game. This is win or go home, so we have to take every game as if it is our last," White said. "Not get carried away, not look forward, but focus on the moment, the one game that we’re in, and fight for each other. Hopefully, we’ll make a big run.”