Just one game above .500, the Blue Devils entered the ACC tournament in search of a signature win to strengthen their case for an NCAA Tournament berth. An ACC tournament quarterfinal matchup against their Tobacco Road rivals, the Tar Heels, afforded them the opportunity to earn that win.

In a battle of the top two defensive units in the ACC, seventh-seeded Duke dropped a 1-0 decision to second-seeded North Carolina Tuesday evening at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, N.C. The loss knocked the Blue Devils out of the conference tournament and created uncertainty with regard to their chance of making the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re going to be in that gray discussion area for sure,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “You never know, we could go in, [we] could not. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we get the nod and get another lifeline.”

North Carolina freshman Danny Garcia scored the lone goal of the game off a Duke (8-8-2, 3-6-1 in the ACC) turnover in the 22nd minute, giving the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead that they would not relinquish. North Carolina has won 39 straight games when scoring first.

“And to give a sloppy goal away in the first half where I thought after the first 10 minutes we were doing well with possession and really in the game,” Kerr said. “It’s disappointing to give a goal away against the run of play.”

Defensive solidarity has been the hallmark of the Blue Devils’ season, and despite their one miscue, Tuesday night was no exception. North Carolina (15-2-1, 7-1-1) entered the matchup averaging 12.41 shots per game. Duke’s backfield limited the Tar Heels to just five.

The Blue Devils won the shot and corner kick battles 7-5 and 2-1, respectively. They generated quality scoring opportunities, particularly in the second half, but failed to find the back of the net. Their best scoring chance came in the 74th minute, when freshman Ryan Thompson fired a shot just wide of the goal.

“It should have been a goal, no question about it,” Kerr said. “He did everything right. He opened up his foot, side-footed it. That was a great chance. I thought that was the one.”

The Blue Devils, who have been focusing on finishing in the final third in practice, not only missed the mark on that shot, but also squandered their other opportunities in the second half. 

“We’re falling a little bit short at the crucial times, and it’s disappointing because we had three really good looks at the goal in the second half and didn’t hit the target on any of them,” Kerr said.

During the NCAA Men’s Soccer Selection Show Monday, Duke will find out if its season will continue.