Danny Garcia scored his fourth goal of the season to give No. 3 North Carolina (15-2-1) a 1-0 start to postseason play in its ACC quarterfinal against Duke (8-8-2) Tuesday night at Fetzer Field.
Though the goal sent their foe back to Durham, potentially ending the Blue Devils’ season, the Tar Heels are less concerned with the rivalry victory and more focused on their own post-season ambitions.
“For me, it’s not a Duke-UNC thing, even though I know for everybody else it is,” coach Carlos Somoano said. “I’m coaching the Tar Heels, and I’m 100 percent focused on the Tar Heels. I can’t get caught into that.”
The Tar Heels found the net when midfielder Raby George stole the ball from Duke’s Zach Mathers on the edge of the Blue Devils’ box in the 22nd minute and slipped a pass to Garcia.
Unmarked, Garcia took two touches before firing a shot past the outstretched hand of Duke goalkeeper James Belshaw, who had moved to his left in anticipation of Garcia shooting toward the far post.
“I saw the keeper cheating to his far post so I just played it to his near post,” Garcia said. “It feels great.”
George made his first assist as a Tar Heel on the play, just five days after scoring his first goal against Boston College.
“I saw the ball coming to the central defender and I knew he was going to turn so I just took the ball,” George said. “Luckily Danny was there and found the goal.”
In the second half, UNC failed to put the game away despite numerous scoring chances.
Garcia had an opportunity to score again in the 51st minute with just two Duke defenders ahead of him and Craven to his side, but his shot sailed high and wide.
George almost assisted again when his cross was cleared up, but not away, and forward Andy Craven attempted a scissor kick. But Belshaw scrambled to make a diving save, preserving hope for a Blue Devils comeback.
Despite the missed chances, Somoano said he was pleased with the Tar Heels’ options going forward.
“Teams can’t just focus on Craven, or (Rob) Lovejoy or Garcia,” Somoano said. To have our front three where they’re all scoring threats is invaluable.”
The victory means UNC will play in the ACC Tournament semifinal with Virginia.
Duke has not missed the NCAA Tournament since 2003 but finished seventh in the ACC and is unlikely to receive an invitation to the 48-team field.
But Somoano said he is more excited about UNC improving play than defeating Duke.
“It could be anybody on the other side, and that’s not a disrespect to them,” Somoano said. “It’s just that we have to focus on ourselves to get better.”
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