Thomas Yang | Senior Staff Photographer
The No.1 Pitt Panthers opened the ACC Tournament in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a strong 2-1 win over Duke. It was unclear how Pitt would play without star first-year forward Bertin Jacquesson, who missed the game due to coronavirus-related protocols, but the Panther offense still found enough success to pull out a win.
In a closely contested first half, Pitt struggled to truly find a rhythm offensively. The Panthers possessed the ball a bit better than the Blue Devils, but most of this possession was confined to their own area of the field. While they forced four corner kicks, they were unable to capitalize for much of the period.
But Pitt finally connected in the 34th minute. Sophomore attacker Valentin Noel continued to spark the Panthers, threading an excellent pass to the feet of junior midfielder Jackson Walti to put Pitt on the board first.
While the first half of play only produced one goal, it was not void of attacking play. While Pitt took a 1-0 lead into the locker room, it was actually out-shot by Duke, eight to six. The Blue Devils also forced four corner kicks, but only put one shot on goal despite all of their promising chances.
Pitt pressed Duke out of the gate in the second half and controlled the pace of the game early in the period. But a miscue in the backline led to an explosive Duke counterattack in the 59th minute. Panther goalie Nico Campuzano saved the first shot, but Blue Devil striker Stephen O’Connell was in prime position for an easy tap-in goal off the deflection.
The Panthers responded by doing what they do best –– playing aggressively. They quickly answered in the 62nd minute, when senior winger Alexander Dexter played a perfect cross to Noel to put Pitt back on top at 2-1.
While the Blue Devils continued to press the Panthers, their chances came to no avail. Pitt secured several defensive stops late in the game, and held onto its 2-1 lead to advance to the semifinals.
Rust was not a factor in Pitt’s first game in three weeks, as the Panthers looked to be the better side for all 90 minutes. They will hope to build on this win in their semifinal matchup on Wednesday with Notre Dame, a team they defeated 3-1 early in the season.