With just a handful of games left in the regular season, every match is important for the Blue Devils, who need to finish the season at .500 to be eligible for an NCAA tournament bid.
That certainly showed at Koskinen Stadium last night, as Duke knocked off Davidson 2-0, led by junior Will Donovan’s two tallies.
“We have three games left, and every one of them is important,” Donovan said.
Just seven minutes into the first half, a quick flick from sophomore Riley Wolfe found teammate Jack Coleman out wide. Coleman, a sophomore, sprinted up the sideline, crossing the ball into the 18-yard box after beating his defender. Donovan was waiting on the other end and volleyed the ball into the far corner of the net to put the Blue Devils up 1-0.
Duke (6-7-1) continued to look dominant for the next 20 minutes. Wolfe and other Blue Devils controlled the tempo, passing the ball around confidently. This started to change later in the half, as the Wolfpack (6-9-1) found its feet on the offensive end. The ball swung back and forth, with a number of dangerous chances for both teams, but neither squad could convert.
“The first part of the first half, we were playing like a playoff team,” head coach John Kerr said. “We knew that if we didn’t win, we could be knocked out of the tournament. For much of the first half, we did a really good job. Davidson decided to step up their tempo and adjusted their lineup, putting more players into the midfield and attack. We went into a little bit of a lull there.”
The second half proved eerily similar to the first. A rejuvenated Duke squad came out strong, again managing to score just seven minutes in. This time, the scoring play began with a low and slow cross from freshman Zack Mathers. In a bizarre sequence of events, a ball that looked like it would be cleared with ease became a scoring opportunity, as two Davidson defenders whiffed, and the ball was instead collected by Duke. With the keeper still out of his box, Donovan had little troubling notching his first two-goal game of the season.
“It’s great to get two goals when it really counts, in a setting like this,” Donovan said.
The rest of the half was closely contested, but a two-goal margin allowed the Blue Devils to relax slightly. Two late chances for the Wolfpack proved inconsequential, as Duke held on for the win.
Goalkeeper James Belshaw notched his fifth shutout of the season and the 18th of his career, notching six saves.
The Blue Devils will look to build on last night’s success as they return to conference action against Virginia Tech Saturday.
“If we want to play in the postseason, we have to get wins,” Kerr said. “Another ACC win on Saturday is a must. It won’t be easy going to Virginia Tech, but we showed tonight that we’re up for the challenge.”