Nov. 22, 2009

Courtesy Duke Athletics

EAST LANSING, Mich.-The Duke University men's soccer team tallied a pair of first-half goals and held on to earn a 2-1 victory over 14th-seed Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The 20th-ranked Blue Devils advance to the third round for the first time since 2006 and will play the winner of the Wake Forest and UNC Wilmington game to be played this evening.

Junior defender Christian Ibeagha and freshman defender Andrew Wenger tallied the goals for Duke as the Blue Devils had to hold off a charging Michigan State squad in the second half.

"The defending really was [the key to victory]," head coach John Kerr said. "We didn't do much attacking wise and we didn't make the most of one or two opportunities we did have in the second half. We didn't play well offensively in the second half so it came down to defending and the back four did extremely well. James Belshaw made a couple good saves on some shots by Michigan State. They fought their hearts out and made life difficult for us today."

The game proved to be a tale of two halves with Duke dominating much of the possession in the opening 45 minutes and Michigan State controlling play in the second frame. In the end it was Duke's 2-0 initial lead that stood up and pushed the Blue Devils into the third round.

"I think we got nervous at halftime with the lead," head coach John Kerr said. "It's a dangerous lead, a 2-0 lead, and we knew if they scored they would be back in the game. Mentally it would be in their favor. Luckily for us we defended well towards the end and made some big plays defensively to clear out some good crosses by Michigan State and we held on towards the end."

Duke generated the first shot of the afternoon, with junior Cole Grossman having a go at goal from 20 yards and sending it over the cross bar less than two minutes into the game.  Minutes later, the Spartans earned a free kick 25 yards from goal, but Michigan State sent the ball across the endline for a goal kick.

After those decent early opportunities the two teams settled down into possession play. In the 18th minute Michigan State defender Tim Granaderos received the return pass from a give-and-go and broke away down the right flank, but his service across the face of the goal went untouched as Duke cleared it out of danger.

The Blue Devils really picked up their rhythm of play over the next five minutes and earned a free kick about 35 yards from goal. Grossman served a ball into the back post where Ibeagha headed it just wide of goal to keep the game scoreless with under 20 minutes to play.

The Blue Devils continued to pressure the Spartans, locking the ball in in the Spartans' defensive third. The pressure paid off with Duke grabbing the 1-0 lead with a goal from Ibeagha on a corner kick in the 29th minute.

Grossman flighted the ball across the box where Wenger headed it down to the feet of Finley near the endline. Finley touched the ball to sophomore Temi Molinar who poked it across the face of the goal to Ibeagha. The native of Houston, Texas fired his first shot off the post but put the rebound in for the 1-0 lead.

With Duke playing stifling defense, the Blue Devils took advantage of another corner kick and made it a 2-0 game with 3:36 left to play in the first half. Grossman's initial service into the box was cleared away by the Spartan goalkeeper. Wenger collected the loose ball just inside the box and beat a defender and snuck the shot past goalie Avery Steinlage for his fourth goal of the season.

The Blue Devils picked up right where they left off in the opening few minutes of the second half. Finley again wreaked havoc on the Spartan defense with a nifty touch in the box before Steinlage came off his line to make a stop and Colin Givens cleared Finley's second shot off the line to keep it a 2-0 game.

Michigan State's best scoring opportunities of the afternoon started to come 10 minutes into the second stanza when Rubin Bega rifled a shot from 12 yards. Duke goalkeeper Belshaw reacted perfectly to make the save. On an ensuing corner kick, Belshaw came up with another big stop, blocking a header from Granaderos to keep the shutout alive.

Gaining confidence from the previous scoring chances, the Spartans continued to press forward and nearly made it a 1-0 game as Mark Barone's header off of a free kick skipped wide right of the net. Michigan State held the majority of possession over the next 15 minutes, but the Blue Devil defense bent but would not break.

The Spartans finally broke through when they earned a free kick on top of the 18-yard box as a result of a hand ball. Bega stepped up to the ball and was able to sneak it through the wall and into the left corner of the net to make it a 2-1 score with 13:37 left in the second half.

In search of the equalizer, Michigan State kept its foot on the pedal and continued to create good scoring opportunities. Jeff Ricondo had a nice look on a header with under eight minutes to play as Belshaw came up with another crucial save.

With Michigan State pressing for the tying goal, Duke was able to come up with some big defensive stops to come away with the 2-1 victory.

Duke held a 13-10 advantage in shots for the game, including a 7-0 edge in the first half. The Blue Devils had a narrow 6-5 edge in corner kicks. Belshaw finished the game with three saves, while Steinlage also had three stops.

"I'm hoping we can go all the way," Kerr said. "That's why we're in this tournament and what we're challenging them with.  We have a couple of tough opponents ahead of us. It's either going to be Wake Forest or Wilmington and we played both teams already. There won't be any secrets out there and it should be an interesting game whoever we get."

Duke will take on the winner of the Wake Forest and UNC Wilmington match on Nov. 29. A win by the Demon Deacons would send the Blue Devils to Winston-Salem, while a victory from the Seahawks would give Duke another home game at Koskinen Stadium. 

Notes: Duke advances to the third round for the first time since 2006 and for the third time since the field was expanded to 48 teams in 2001 ... The Blue Devils are undefeated this season when scoring first ... The win was Duke's first win away from homoe since Sept. 11 at Virginia.