“Huge... Massive... Tremendous.”
These were the words most used by Duke head coach John Kerr and senior goalkeeper James Belshaw to describe their victory as they stood on N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Field after the Blue Devils took down a dangerous Wolfpack team in a 1-0 shutout.
“To come out here and get a win, is huge.” Belshaw said. “We would have put ourselves in a big hole had we not gotten a result here, but the lads stuck together.”
Although Duke (4-5-1, 2-2-1 ACC) players said last Friday’s overtime loss to North Carolina remained on their mind, the Blue Devils turned to the elements of their game that have carried them the majority of their season: defense and junior center back Sebastien Ibeagha, who registered the team’s lone goal.
Duke’s backline employed a bend-but-don’t-break effort that resulted in no major scares until an N.C. State last ditch effort in the final minutes.
“Besides the last little five minute flurry, they didn’t really threaten much,” Belshaw said.
The Wolfpack gave the crowd a good show in those final minutes, as they had four shots on goal and opportunities to tie the game. Each shot, however, found its way outside of the crossbars or deflected off Belshaw’s gloves. Besides these late attacks, the Blue Devils stayed strong in their defense and aggressive on offense.
“The backline was tremendous again. That’s been the way we’ve built.” Belshaw said. “We know we can shut teams out.”
As the defense stood strong throughout, Ibeagha leaped into action in the 25th minute, taking a pass from freshman midfielder Zach Mathers on a set piece and connecting with the back right corner of the net. The goal was his fifth goal of the year and his fourth that has been set up by a set piece.
“He does such a great job for us defensively, and anytime he comes up for any set piece he’s dangerous.” Kerr said. “He’s converted on five attempts this year. As a team who’s been hampered by injuries to our strikers, it’s a great addition to what we need.”
Efficiency has been a huge key to Ibeagha and Duke’s success, as this was his fifth goal of the season, but merely his ninth shot. He leads the offense in shot percentage at .556.
N.C. State (7-5, 0-4) dropped its fourth straight ACC match, dashing many excited Wolfpack fans’ hype around their incredible start in which they won their first six games. They have been on a skid as of late, losing their last five out of six contests.
A bright spot for the Wolfpack on an otherwise slow night of offense was the play of High Point transfer, junior Alex Martinez. Martinez was able to work through Duke’s defense several times, but failed to execute, missing all three of his shots.
N.C. State head coach Kelly Findley said the team lacked conviction in the first half, which showed in their defensive play, namely on Ibeagha’s goal.
Although the team played aggressively overall, it was not the type of aggressive attitude the Wolfpack needed. There were numerous scuffles on the field between the two teams, including one in which the Wolfpack’s Monobo Bokar got into a shoving match with several Duke players. This chippy play resulted in N.C. State drawing four yellow cards on the night.
Duke will have the chance to get nice and comfy in Durham as the Blue Devils open a four-game home stretch that begins on Friday, when the No. 1 Maryland Terrapins (8-0-1, 3-0-0) face off against Duke at Koskinen Stadium at 7 p.m.