The Blue Devils had faced adversity through their first eight games, replacing multiple stars from last year’s team and overcoming several deficits to record the best start in program history.
But Friday, Duke will have to do something it has not yet done in 2016—bounce back from a loss.
Coming off Sunday’s 3-2 loss at then-No. 5 North Carolina, the No. 3 Blue Devils will host No. 15 Boston College Friday at 6 p.m. and No. 13 Boston University Sunday at 1 p.m. at Jack Katz Stadium looking to get back in the win column. Duke surrendered three second-half goals to the Tar Heels Sunday to squander a 1-0 lead, and will have to quickly rebound as its daunting schedule continues.
Eight of the Blue Devils’ first 11 opponents this season will have been top-20 teams after Sunday’s game.
“We weren’t really happy at all about the loss,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “A lot of the situations that got us into trouble and created the goal-scoring opportunities for North Carolina were really created by us, so in a way it’s a good thing because we can control the fix and take care of the things that we need to take care of.”
Although they are below .500 this season, the Eagles (4-5, 1-2 in the ACC) are a threat to upset the Blue Devils (8-1, 2-0) because of an equally difficult schedule. All but one of Boston College’s losses came against top-20 competition, and the Eagles knocked off then-No. 17 Stanford and the then-No. 2 Tar Heels earlier this season.
Boston College goalkeeper Audra Hampsch allows 1.7 goals per game but is in the top 10 nationally in save percentage, and Eagle forward Brittany Sheenan has scored eight goals this year.
“They are a great team, and so for us, it is sticking to what we do and taking care of their strengths,” Bustin said. “They have some good scoring ability and some good counterattack ability, and that is something we are going to have to be prepared for.”
The Terriers (7-2) have faced a softer schedule in the Patriot League, but in three matchups against ranked teams have gone 2-1, with the loss to then-No. 3 Connecticut 5-1 Sunday. Like Duke, Boston University averages more than three goals per game and has numerous offensive options, with five players scoring at least four goals through nine games.
Following a power outage on the road—the Blue Devils fired just six shots Sunday—Duke will look to spark its offense against a Boston College defense that gives up almost 16 shots per game before facing a Terrier unit that allows half as many. Part of that offensive success will likely be determined by how well the Blue Devils transition from defense to offense, something they excelled at en route to the best start in program history.
“[With] awareness [and] aggressiveness being connected to attack—we have to have to go back to that, and that is what was missing on Sunday,” Bustin said. “Hopefully that will be there and so we will create some more scoring opportunities.”
To contain two more dangerous offenses, Duke’s defense will have to recover from one of its worst stretches of the season.
The Blue Devils allowed three goals in a 15-minute period during the second half Sunday, and will look to stay attached to opposing forwards this weekend while controlling possession to give the back line a break. At times against North Carolina, it felt like redshirt freshman goalkeeper Sammi Steele was constantly under siege from the Tar Heel offense—it was the first time in the Eagleville, Pa., native’s career that she had allowed three goals.
“She knows there is no finger pointing. There is no way [it] is one person’s fault,” Bustin said. “We just come back to basics, reconnect, shore up our defense a little bit and open up the attack.”
Following the Boston University game, Duke will have reached the halfway point in the regular season with games against North Carolina and No. 4 Syracuse still looming.
For a team with championship aspirations, ACC tilts like the one the Blue Devils face Friday have never been more important—their last three NCAA championship game losses have come at the hands of conference foes, and the Tar Heels have knocked them out of the postseason the past two years.
“To think we are going to go undefeated is awesome, but that is not a thought. We really do approach one game at a time and going into North Carolina had nothing to do with our record prior to that,” Bustin said. “Now, going into Boston College, that loss has nothing to do with our game on Friday—it really is just taking care of what we can for that day and being the best team that we can be.”
Amrith Ramkumar contributed reporting.
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