Sometimes it takes just 30 minutes of solid play to win a soccer game. That was certainly the case Tuesday night at Koskinen Stadium, as the Blue Devils (2-3) turned a lackluster first half into a resounding 3-0 victory against Georgia State (2-2). The win was much needed for a team that had managed just three goals in its first four games of the season.
Sophomore Nick Palodichuk broke the ice for Duke and junior Sebastien Ibeagha followed that up with two scores.
Duke’s offensive woes were painfully apparent for much of the first half. Despite brief moments of brilliance in the midfield, the team mustered just one shot on goal in the first 45 minutes. Finding open spaces and finishing on counterattacks proved difficult for the young Blue Devils, with crosses failing to find teammates.
“Our guys just weren’t able to find open space,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “We’ve been struggling to get players the ball on offense all season, and you could definitely see that in the first half tonight.”
Fortunately for Duke, their opponents were not much better. With neither team able to find any sort of rhythm in the first half, the ball spent most of its time in the midfield. The game got chippy at times, with defenders on both sides cutting off passes and making aggressive tackles. Georgia State sophomore Michael Nwiloh proved particularly challenging for Duke, making a number of big stops against Duke sophomore Riley Wolf.
The game’s back-and-forth play changed about 15 minutes into the second half. The Blue Devils began to look more confident on offense, beating their opponents to contested balls and sending a number of dangerous balls into the Panthers’ defensive third.
“We really picked up our level of play in the second half,” Palodichuk said. “We came out a lot quicker on the offensive end, with guys like Riley making great runs, and I think it really showed.”
Duke finally broke through in the 65th minute of play. A deep throw-in from Duke ricocheted around the box. Palodichuk collected the rebound and had little trouble putting it away to give the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead.
Ten minutes later, Duke scored again. Freshman Zach Mathers served in a corner kick to the far post, where Ibeagha gave the keeper little hope, heading the ball down and out of reach for a 2-0 Blue Devil lead.
Mathers and Ibeagha were not done, however. After a poor Georgia State corner kick with just four minutes left in the second half, Duke quickly went on the counterattack. The Panthers recovered slowly and were overwhelmed by the Blue Devils’ quick passing. Mathers found an open Ibeagha directly in front of the goal for his second tally of the game and a 3-0 Duke win.
“We really picked up the tempo there in the second half. We were connecting on passes, really controlling the game,” Kerr said. “It’s also our first shutout of the season, so really impressive from the back line.”