CHAPEL HILL—For 35 minutes, the Blue Devils dictated play against North Carolina, holding the high-powered Tar Heel offense to two shots and one penalty corner. Thanks to an early Ashley Kristen goal, Duke went into halftime leading its rivals 1-0.
But for the sixth straight matchup between the two teams, North Carolina had the last laugh.
The No. 5 Tar Heels erupted for three second-half goals to continue their dominance of the No. 2 Blue Devils and hand Duke its first loss of the season 3-2 at Francis E. Henry Stadium. The Blue Devil defense was unable to contain North Carolina in the second half, allowing nine second-half shots and four penalty corners that put constant pressure on redshirt freshman goalkeeper Sammi Steele.
On the other end of the field, the Tar Heel defense once again shut down Duke’s explosive offense. The Blue Devils average 16.3 shots per game but finished with just six Sunday afternoon—they have now lost 15 of their last 16 games against North Carolina dating back to 2006.
“In the second half, we’re not really sure [what happened], and that’s something we’ve got to address—how we got on the back foot,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said.
Off to their best start in program history, the Blue Devils (8-1) could not have scripted a much better start in the unique nonconference meeting between the Tobacco Road rivals because of House Bill 2.
In the third minute, Kristen broke away from the Tar Heel defense after a turnover, receiving a pass from graduate student Aisling Naughton before firing a shot past North Carolina goalkeeper Alex Halpin.
The rest of the half was a defensive battle, with teams that average more than three goals per game combining for just five total shots. Any time the Tar Heels looked like they were about to break through the Duke defense, the Blue Devils came up with timely clears to disrupt North Carolina’s offense as the Tar Heels dominated possession.
But coming off a dramatic win against No. 1 Syracuse Friday, North Carolina (8-2) turned possession into scoring opportunities in the second half, firing several shots at Steele to start the period. The Blue Devils stopped the first few, but in the 47th minute Eva van’t Hoog got the home team on the board with a shot from the left side.
The Dutch midfielder was just getting started.
Less than four minutes later, van’t Hoog found some room near Duke’s goal and capitalized, sending a shot between two Blue Devils’ legs to give North Carolina its first lead of the game.
Another Tar Heel from the Netherlands scored in the 61st minute to put the Blue Devils in their biggest hole of the season.
Freshman forward Eef Andriessen broke free from Duke’s defense, beating Steele for the third time in less than 15 minutes to make the score 3-1. For the first time this year, the Blue Devils were unable to come up with key defensive stops when they needed them most.
“[We need to use] it as a learning experience, practicing really hard this week and remembering how we feel now and using it as fuel for the rest of the season,” Steele said.
Although they found themselves facing their largest deficit of the season, the Blue Devils made things interesting by responding with a quick score of their own.
Coming out of a timeout with less than 10 minutes left in the game, Naughton brought Duke to within one goal after an accidentally-whiffed shot that acted as a convincing fake, leading Halpin to bite and leaving an open cage for Naughton.
“It was definitely a little too late, but I’m happy it happened because it is a reminder that it is possible, and that’s exactly what you have to bring,” Bustin said. “I was really happy with the changes that they made coming out of that timeout.”
Naughton’s goal seemed to spark the Blue Devils to a late rally that featured a scoring chance on a crossed ball right in front of the cage as the game clock hit 10 seconds, but the ball was deflected out of bounds and North Carolina was able to run out the clock.
Following another disappointing loss to the Tar Heels, Duke returns home and to conference action with a Friday tilt against No. 9 Boston College.
“You can learn from a loss. Winning eight games in a row is a pretty strong scorecard to have, so to be able to have a loss and recognize what the situation is—what our weaknesses are—so that we can have a loss right now rather than in a more serious match down the line [is important],” Naughton said. “We can absolutely build from this.”
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