Some of the most iconic moments in all of cinema are great escapes. The raptors in the kitchen scene from “Jurassic Park,” Andy Dufresne’s escape in “The Shawshank Redemption” and Butch fighting his way out in “Pulp Fiction.” Audiences love seeing the coveted protagonist just barely make it out of a sticky situation. The audience at Koskinen Stadium was no different Friday night. The Blue Devil supporters grew louder as the seconds ticked away, expecting to celebrate the single euphoric goal that would pull off Duke’s great escape. But it never came.
Prior to its postgame silence, Koskinen was a volcano spewing hot magma from its core, and the weary Panthers could only sit and pray it did not erupt. The Blue Devil supporters had new life in a heated second half in which six yellow cards were given across both teams. It felt that a goal from either team was imminent—it was an atmosphere not built for a draw. Despite the unfavorable tie, the second-ranked Blue Devils extended their undefeated streak to 14 games.
“We're not worried about streaks. We're just worried about the game that we're playing and preparing for that game as we approach it,” said Duke head coach John Kerr after the game. “So we're already thinking about Virginia Tech next Friday and preparing for those guys and so we're not really overly worried about streaks or records or anything like that.”
Pittsburgh (7-3-4, 3-2-2 in the ACC) has had better years, but the Panthers still had one last opportunity to hunt a first-round playoff birth in the ACC tournament. Regardless, Pittsburgh remained a threat after dethroning then-No. 2 Georgetown and then-No. 6 West Virginia back in August. Duke (10-0-4, 4-0-3), looking to avoid a similar fate, set the tone early on and established pressure high up the field. Carrying over the emotion and momentum from the pre-game Senior Night celebrations, the Blue Devils had the Panthers on the ropes early in the first half.
However, a series of scrappy fouls broke the continuous flow of the game and eased the pressure off the Panthers. Pittsburgh was able to take control of the midfield and force the Blue Devils to make plays along the wings. Duke began to give up possession with inaccurate through balls, and after a barrage of crosses into the Pittsburgh box, Duke ended the half by giving up two dangerous plays from turnovers in their half.
Despite inconsistency in terms of offensive production, a solid all-around effort from the defense kept the game scoreless. Freshman midfielder Wayne Frederick and junior midfielder Nick Pariano were productive on their respective wings, but their relationship could not be extended to either striker in Shakur Mohammed or Scotty Taylor. The opponent to beat for Duke’s offense was not the Pittsburgh defense, but instead decision-making and poor crosses into the penalty box.
On the opposite end of the field, graduate goalkeeper Eliot Hamill ensured that Duke would go unpunished. On paper, Duke has the best defense in the country, and Hamill recorded his fifth consecutive shutout. “It's a team performance, we're focused on defending, I have four amazing defenders in front of me, our whole team defends, we defend as a unit, we prioritize it,” Hamill said after the game.
Kerr adjusted at halftime to give the Blue Devils control over the midfield. This opened up more attacking options, allowing players like junior midfielder Peter Stroud to thrive on quick cuts and routes down the middle of Pittsburgh’s side of the field. This inadvertently led to the Chester, N.J., native being fouled repeatedly, with even the referee gesturing for the Panthers to avoid fouling Stroud. This would be the beginning of the end for continuous play, and several key set pieces for both Duke and Pittsburgh would go on to define the end of the match.
Back-and-forth action riled up the Koskinen attendees. No foul would go without protest, no run down the wing by Pariano would go silent, and no save by Hamill would go without applause. One final tackle by Frederick in the 89th minute would seal the high-stakes draw.
“That's what contributes to keeping a clean sheet—is all those moments adding up together and never switching off and always been focused on defending, working hard and doing the dirty stuff and being gritty, and we focus on that, I think it's paid off,” said Hamill.
Duke continues to set new standards for itself, improving to 15 points atop the ACC Coastal Division. The Blue Devils will need to finish their regular season strong Friday evening at a struggling Virginia Tech team to seal the Coastal.
“Yeah, we want to go out, you know, we want to go out on a high, we'd love to get a result,” said Hamill. “You know, a [Virginia Tech] team that looks like they've struggled this year and we definitely don't want to get result that would hurt us, and go out and finish the regular season strong. Go into the postseason. You know, it's our goal.”
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