The Blue Devils struggled to put in the ball in the net throughout this season, and that inability haunted the team in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
On a chilly Saturday evening at Koskinen Stadium, No. 6 seed Duke fell 2-0 against 11th seeded Maryland. Despite numerous chances on the offensive end, the Blue Devils could not find the means to finish against a tough Terrapin defense.
“We had the right players in the right spaces and we just didn’t finish off the pass or the cross. And it was a bummer because normally we do and we go on and win the game handily,” head coach John Kerr said. “But hats off to Maryland, they’re really savvy and they knew how to wind the game down and slow it down and take advantage of moments. They’re an experienced team with an experienced coach.
“I’m disappointed for our guys. We didn’t play a bad game at all. We played a really good game and it’s a shame because I feel that we didn’t take advantage of all our capabilities.”
Early in the first half, Duke controlled the pace of play and held the ball in the final third more than the Terrapins. In the 18th minute, Issa Rayyan attacked the Maryland defense from the right side, rocketing a shot that missed just wide of the left post.
In the 24th minute, freshman William James Herve scored the first of the Terrapins’ two goals on a scissor-kick volley set up by Paul Bin’s cross.
“We were in total control until we gave that goal away late in the first half,” Kerr explained. “The momentum changes when goals are scored and we were totally on the offensive for most of the half and they got a little bit of momentum after they scored.”
Three minutes later, Maryland attacked again but Blue Devil goalie Will Pulisic made an extremely difficult save, sending Herve’s 30-yard shot just off the top bar. In another brilliant defensive effort, Brandon Williamson prevented a second score. Amar Sejdic shot just past Pulisic’s right side and the ball neared the goal line before Williamson almost magically appeared from the right, sliding his left foot in front of the ball.
As the first half wound down, Duke trailed the Terrapins 1-0 but moved the ball well in the offensive third and tirelessly looked for an equalizer.
Coming out of the break, the Blue Devils had several tantalizing chances to put one in the back of the net. In the 50th minute, Duke was poised to secure a score but Daniele Proch’s point-blank shot couldn’t get pass the Maryland keeper.
Sixty minutes into the contest, a Blue Devil mix-up play proved costly. The Terrapins capitalized on a stolen back pass for another Maryland goal, extending the lead to 2-0.
“From then on we were chasing them, really trying to get back in and get one goal and we had several opportunities to get that one goal which would have propelled us to another level if we had scored and we couldn’t pull it off,” Kerr said.
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But the Blue Devils wouldn’t go down without a fight. Duke found its way to the offensive third where Kristofer Gardarsson had a potentially game-changing service. Unfortunately, Daniele Proch couldn’t handle the ball enough to slide it past the Terrapin keeper. Dayne St. Clair anchored Maryland’s defense with eight saves on the night.
“I’m really proud of the group. We’re going to lose three great seniors and two grad students and they really contributed a lot to the program, especially the three seniors that were for four years. I feel that they’ve seen the program grow from a non-playoff team to now two years in a row we’re the top seed,” Kerr said. “I’m disappointed for them because I wanted them to go farther into the playoffs. It’s a shame because we were a good team. But it’s hard to take and you just got to let it burn and let it help you for next year.”
Despite losing talent and experience, Duke looks poised to have another strong year next season, particularly with its returning offensive firepower. Junior Daniele Proch closed out the Blue Devils’ campaign with 26 points on 11 goals and garnered All-ACC first team accolades.
In addition to Proch’s prowess near the net, Issa Rayyan tabbed a standout freshman campaign. The ACC Rookie of the Year finished the season with 15 points, the most for any Blue Devil freshman since Brody Huitema’s 16 in 2013. Freshman Ian Murphy and sophomore defender Matthias Frick also contributed three goals a piece on the season. While the Blue Devils weren’t able to put all of the pieces together against a tough Maryland defense, Duke still hung tough and could make another NCAA tournament run in 2019.