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Duke looks to continue hot streak in ACCs

Duke enters the ACC Tournament with the conference’s offensive and defensive players of the year.
Duke enters the ACC Tournament with the conference’s offensive and defensive players of the year.

Last year, Boston College shut out Duke during the regular season and then again in the first round of the ACC Tournament. With a 1-0 victory over the Eagles earlier this season, the No. 19 Blue Devils are looking to fully avenge last year’s losses as they kick off their ACC Tournament tomorrow night at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.

“They beat us twice last year, and we’re going to beat them twice this year,” senior Cole Grossman declared.

Duke catches Boston College (9-3-5, 2-2-4 in the ACC) at a good time, as the No. 21 Eagles have struggled through conference play this season. Although they impressively tied conference powerhouses Maryland and North Carolina, they only pulled out two conference victories while losing to and drawing with teams they should have beaten. These struggles earned them the No. 5 seed in the tournament.

Duke (9-4-4, 3-3-2), on the other hand, enters the tournament as the No. 4 seed, coming off a strong three-game winning streak to finish the season, in which it collectively outscored its opponents 12-2.

“We’re absolutely buzzing—we’ve come off three big wins,” sophomore goalie James Belshaw said. “We’ve got momentum. The whole team’s ready, and everyone’s in a great spirit.”

Regardless of momentum, to pull off another win against Boston College the Blue Devils will have to improve their play from the regular-season matchup. Although Duke was successful in holding the Eagles scoreless, Boston College had a number of good offensive looks that ultimately did not translate to the scoreboard.

“We did a lot of things well, [but] in fact we also did a lot of things not so well,” head coach John Kerr said. “[Since then] we made a couple of defensive adjustments to accommodate what B.C. likes to do.”

In addition, the Blue Devils struggled on offense for much of the earlier matchup, notching only two shots on goal in the first half. The Eagles focused on shutting down sophomore striker Ryan Finley, who faced a tough, physical defense throughout the match and was held scoreless. Finley, named the ACC offensive player of the year yesterday, finished the regular season as the Division I leader in goals with 17. Knowing he could be guarded heavily again, Duke will have to be open minded in its offensive game plan, creating other opportunities if its top scorer is rendered ineffective.

“Hopefully we can capitalize on some free kicks and corner kicks, and if we start doing that we’re going to be really hard to beat,” Grossman said. “When we’re unselfish and willing to make the last pass, it makes a huge difference.”

Still, tactics aside, the largest factor in this game for the Blue Devils seems to be their hunger for revenge against the team that booted them from last year’s ACC Tournament. That game was particularly frustrating as it was defined less by the players and more by the hurricane-like conditions during the match.

“It’s in our minds­­—it hasn’t gone away yet,” Kerr said. “We felt unfortunate that we had two losses against them last year, so we’re excited about the opportunity to rectify that.”

Looking ahead, should the Blue Devils pull off the win tomorrow, they will likely face the tournament’s No. 1 seed, North Carolina, in the semifinals. Furthermore, if Duke can win both of those games and make it to the championship, it may earn a bye in the NCAA Tournament.

For now, however, beating the Eagles and exacting revenge is on the Blue Devils’ minds.

“We’ve given them one win back from their win in the regular season last year,” Belshaw said. “So there’s one more score to be settled.”


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