Duke (13-6-0) grabbed an early 2-0 lead before the Eagles rallied back in the early minutes of the second half to make it 2-1. McDaniel registered what proved to be the game-winner in the 73rd minute and the Blue Devil backline held off the nation's fourth-ranked scoring offense in the final 17 minutes to come away with the win.
"The first half we played really well," senior Trae Harrison said. "Second half, we had to come back and get in it. Being a senior and we had lost in the first round every year since I was a freshman so it definitely feels good to just get a win as ugly as it may be. So, we'll take it and improve on it in the next round."
Looking to get out of the first round since 2006, Duke came out of the gates fast. Winthrop (11-6-4) held the possession for the first two minutes before the Blue Devils made the most of their first attacking opportunity in the third minute.
Junior defender Nick Sih pushed into the attack on the right flank and slipped a pass into the box where sophomore Ryan Ruffing and rookie Ryan Finley were running onto the ball. Knowing Finley was right behind him with a trailing run, Ruffing dummied the ball and Finley one-timed it into the left side of the net for the 1-0 lead.
"I think scoring first settles everyone's nerves," Finley said. "Especially coming out in the tournament everyone wants to come out and play their best game, so scoring in the first five minutes definitely gives us a little bit of an edge on the other team."
The Blue Devils continued to dominate the run of play and kept the potent Eagle attack at bay. Winthrop put together some good passes, but was unable to figure out Duke's defense.
After having a couple of near goals, Duke got on the board again with 1:39 left in the first half. Rookie Andrew Wenger sent a perfectly flighted ball from the midfield into the box. Harrison saw an opening in the box and was able to sneak in and head the ball just out of the reach of Eagle goalkeeper Enrique Miranda. The goal was the second of the season for Harrison and the second of his career.
Duke dominated in all aspects of the first half, holding a 7-0 advantage in shots and a 4-0 edge in corner kicks. Miranda made two saves in the opening 45 minutes.
In need of a spark, Winthrop came out in the second half and quickly made things interesting with a goal just 11 minutes into the stanza. Said Abdi collected the ball 18 yards from goal and turned on his defender and fired a shot into the right side-netting to make it a one-goal game.
The goal gave the Eagles energy as they started to push forward in search of the equalizer. Winthrop nearly had that equalizer in the 68th minute off a header from Daniel Di Biagio, but freshman goalkeeper James Belshaw came up with a huge point-blank save to keep it 2-1.
Five minutes later, McDaniel seemingly sealed the victory for the Blue Devils with a rifle to the left upper ninety. The ball popped out after a corner kick to the foot of McDaniel, where he used a quick touch and ripped the shot from 20 yards for what proved to be the game-winner.
"I guess it was a little bit dramatic, but we'll take it," McDaniel said. "I had a terrible touch, to be honest with you, and I had to rescue myself and got behind it and put it in the back post and good things happened."
"[Ryan McDaniel's] been a stalwart for us all season long in the midfield," Kerr said. "It's a special night for him to step up and score the winning goal for probably his last game here at Koskinen, and it was great for him."
Down by two goals again Winthrop continued to battle and responded with a goal in the 76th minute off the head of Cameron Alksnis. However, Duke stayed strong in the final 14 minutes to come away with the 3-2 win to earn a spot in the second round.
Duke outshot Winthrop 20-6 for the game and had a 9-1 advantage in corner kicks. Belshaw had two saves in goal, while Miranda made five stops.
"[A game like this] keeps you sharp," head coach John Kerr said. "It kind of reminds us that going into Sunday, it's not going to be easy, and we're going to have to be ready for it. Michigan State is going to be tough opponent, and we have to make sure we're ready for them."
The Blue Devils and Spartans square off in the second round of play on Nov. 22 at 1 p.m. Tickets for Sunday's game will be available through the MSU ticket office at 517.355.1610.
Notes: Duke senior Ryan McDaniel's first career goal was the game winner ... Duke advances to the NCAA Tournament for the 11th time overall and for the first time since the 2006 season ... The last time the Blue Devils played a Big South opponent in the NCAA Tournament was in 2004 when Duke advanced to the College Cup ... Duke is now 12-1 at Koskinen Stadium this season.