Duke entered the weekend having never played in the Round of 16 in consecutive years since the NCAA tournament expanded to 48 teams in 2001.
That changed Sunday, as the No. 6 Blue Devils defeated Pacific 1-0 at Koskinen Stadium, securing one of those final 16 spots in the tournament. Duke had a slow start offensively, mustering just a single shot in the first half, but came out firing after halftime, totaling seven shots in the first 20 minutes of the second half. Only one of those shots—freshman Issa Rayyan’s in the 65th minute—found the back of the net, but that was all that the Blue Devils needed to get past the Tigers.
“We had to get ourselves a little more organized offensively, get numbers in certain areas and also pressing a little bit higher,” head coach John Kerr said. “I thought we did a good job of that, especially at the start of the second half. We had more energy and we stepped it up a gear and I thought we dominated the game for the first 25 to 30 minutes of the second-half.”
Neither Duke nor Pacific managed a single shot on goal in the first 45 minutes. The Blue Devils (11-6-2) got their first shot off in the 14th minute, when a kick from sophomore Matthias Frick was blocked and tipped above the goal.
There was hope for the game’s first goal in the 35th minute, when Duke freshman Seth Kuhn had just one defender between himself and the goal. The crowd began to get loud as Kuhn got closer and closer to the net, but their excitement quickly died down when the Wyomissing, Pa., native was not even able to get a shot off.
Junior Suniel Veerakone also incited a reaction from the stands with some fancy dribbling in the final 30 seconds of the half, but he too could not muster a shot attempt. Pacific, meanwhile, totaled four shots before halftime.
“Pacific is a very good team,” Rayyan said. “Defensively, they are pretty solid. It was very hard to get the ball. There was always a man on me, and anywhere I went it was just so hard to get open.”
In the second half, things started to turn the Blue Devils’ way. By the 48th minute, Duke posted the contest’s first shot on goal courtesy of freshman Ian Murphy. The shot was saved by sophomore goalkeeper Ethan Bandre, but 18 minutes and six more shots later, the Blue Devils finally made it onto the scoreboard.
The play began with a shot from All-ACC selection Daniele Proch that Bandre saved. But as the ball bounced off the hands of the Tiger goalie, Raayan was right there to knock in the rebound for his sixth goal of the year. The ACC Freshman of the Year promptly finished off the sequence with a celebratory backflip.
“Daniele had the ball and he just shot it and I was just in the right place in the right time,” Rayyan said. “I got it and then I was just looking to turn around and shoot it, shoot it as much as possible. I did not exactly know where the goal was. I just turned and shot.”
Following the goal, the Blue Devils turned their attention to defense, preventing Pacific (12-5-2) from knotting up the score. There were several close calls, including a shot from junior Andreas Charalambous off a free kick that went right at Duke goalkeeper Will Pulisic and a header from classmate Jonathan Jimenez that sailed just above the crossbar, but the Blue Devils were able to finish off the shutout.
“We stepped a little bit higher on them—we did not give them a little bit more room,” Kerr said. “In the first half, we gave them too much room and they were able to pass around us. Our adjustments were right on the mark.”
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Pulisic had three saves on the way to his sixth shutout on the year. Duke now looks forward to its third-round matchup next Saturday against Maryland, which is coming off a 2-0 victory against N.C. State.
“These games are tough, they are hard and going into these games it is the result that matters,” Rayyan said. “We are going to spend Thanksgiving together and we are looking forward to the next game.”