In a year that has been full of storylines for the Blue Devils—a top-two ranking to begin the season, defeating the team they fell to at the conference tournament last fall, a tough 5-1 loss to Florida State—another came along Thursday night: a tie.
The 10th-ranked Blue Devils remained on the road for their penultimate regular-season away game against Clemson. The clouds above Historic Riggs Field as kickoff commenced, precisely one week after Duke's fateful Florida State contest, lit up in brilliant orange hues similar to the Tigers’ colors. And as Duke, clad in white, and Clemson, clad in purple, faced off for a game that could help determine who qualifies for the six-team field at the ACC tournament, the teams were as energetic as the electric sky above them.
Yet, as the game went on and both teams looked to get a shot in the back of the net, neither team could make it happen. Ultimately, what could have been a difference-maker in the conference standings simply ended in a 0-0 draw. For Clemson, that marks the group’s second tie in conference play and fourth this season. For Duke, it marks its first draw of the year.
"I think there's different parts of the game that we performed. I think the first part of the game, we came out and we played really, really well….And then when we got to the final third, attacking, we were not as sharp as we were at different parts of the field," head coach Robbie Church told The Chronicle Friday morning. "Our last ball, our runs, the quality that we needed in that final third was just not as sharp.
"Especially in the first half, we were really sharp on the ball, we kept 62% possession of it [the ball], but we were never dangerous. We got to be a little bit more than playing three or four diagonal balls behind their left back that were really dangerous. But once we played the ball, we never got any dangerous scoring opportunities out of [it]."
Less than 60 seconds remained on the first-half clock as graduate midfielder Delaney Graham ran the ball down the field for one last go at making a dent in the score. Graham saw the opportunity that the Blue Devils (10-4-1, 5-2-1 in the ACC) had been waiting for after receiving a pass from Cooper. She angled her foot, took a wide swing at it from the side and hit it with force. Yet, Clemson’s Layne St. George was unwilling to give up the game’s first goal without a fight. She beat out the 5-foot-6 Atlanta native before she could place the ball, kicking it off to the side, letting Tiger goalkeeper Halle Mackiewicz take it back and leave the contest scoreless for the second 45 minutes of play.
"We're not talking about a bad team, Clemson. ... They're 22 in the RPI, and we're playing on their field," Church said. "We were better. And we've got to be able to find those gauges when we’re running out of time. We're still very capable of putting everything together. We're very capable of making a long run in the NCAA tournament. But we just have to have all parts: out of possession, in possession, set plays, we just have to have them all clicking at the same time."
Duke made slow but steady moves toward the goal early, but as Clemson (7-4-4, 3-3-2) took possession, Cooper began what would remain a constant theme throughout the game—holding firm, taking the ball back and connecting with teammates up top. Holding 58% possession, Duke was able to do this for the longer part of the game as its opponent made equally unsuccessful attempts in the opposite direction.
Through the first 15 minutes of play, there was yet to be a shot on goal until Cooper took a swing at it. And though the volley did not find the back of the net, the play led into some powerful back and forth, suggesting a goal was imminent. Just more than a minute after Cooper’s shot, Clemson’s Maliah Morris had possession on the opposite side of the field and had her own chance, but senior goalkeeper Ruthie Jones was one step ahead.
"She did what she needed to do to get a really good job on that play," Church said of Jones’ performance in goal. "She controlled the box, she controlled the area, which is the best thing. If your goalkeeper can come out and take them out of the air and she did that a couple of times. So I thought she was really commanding of the box and set piece with a lot of traffic around her."
In the end, the 6-foot senior deflected the Tigers’ four shots on goal, while Mackiewicz saved Duke’s two attempts on the goal—both of which came from Cooper. The last of those shots was the Blue Devils’ closest to getting a goal on the board, coming in the 81st minute with a lightning-fast volley that Mackiewicz jumped to before it could cross the goal line. The sophomore also shot four other times—the most of any player from either sideline.
The Blue Devils will next take on Louisville Sunday for their Senior Day at Koskinen Stadium at 1 p.m.
“Louisville is a huge, huge game for us,” Church said. “We still got to be a little bit more ruthless. We got to have some quality and quality serves that we get in there. And we have to be getting numbers of people in their box and get people that are making really hard runs across the face of the goal.”
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