Johns Hopkins vs. Duke men's lacrosse: Three things to watch

Johns Hopkins has won 12 of 17 games against Duke, but the two sides haven’t met since May 15, 2010, when the Blue Devils coasted to an 18-5 rout in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Blue Jays own a slight 3-2 record over Duke in the NCAA tournament.

Johns Hopkins (11-4) has won six of its last seven contests, which includes a 14-8 victory over eighth-seeded Virginia in Sunday’s first-round game. The program is making its third quarterfinal appearance in the last four years but hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2008. With 39 goals each, senior attackman Brandon Benn and sophomore attackman Ryan Brown (Calvert Hall) need just one more goal to become the third pair of teammates to record 40 goals in the same season.

Top-seeded and reigning national champion Duke (14-3) has won 10 of its last 11 games and enjoyed an easy 20-9 thrashing of Air Force in a first-round contest on Sunday. The program is seeking its eighth straight berth in the Final Four. With 285 career points, senior attackman Jordan Wolf needs one more point to pass former attackman Zack Greer for second place on the team’s career points list.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Delaware Stadium at the University of Delaware in Newark at noon Sunday.

1) Johns Hopkins’ offense vs. Duke’s Luke Aaron. Aaron, the Blue Devils’ sophomore goalkeeper, won’t wow anyone with his numbers (9.50 goals-against average and .531 save percentage), but he is still a reliable anchor for the defense. And with his 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame, Aaron takes up a considerable amount of space in the net.

But Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala pointed out that his team has faced sizable goalies like Albany sophomore Blaze Riorden (6-0, 215), Virginia freshman Matt Barrett (6-0, 220) and Princeton senior Brian Kavanagh (6-0, 180), and found a way to score goals.

“One of things people don’t talk about is, when you’ve got a big goalie in there, people can tend to overthink it,” Pietramala said. “… Not saves, but missed shots because they’re trying to be too fine with their shots because it’s a big guy. Something I’ve learned over the course of time is that it is an important piece to think about when you’re facing a big goalie or a really good goalie. Those guys can tend to make you think about your shot and miss more. So I think it’s very important for us not to overthink things and to just continue to shoot good shots to what we believe are good places, and hopefully, we’ll be able to generate enough of those.”

2) Johns Hopkins’ Drew Kennedy vs. Duke’s Brendan Fowler. Fowler, the Blue Devils’ faceoff specialist who was named the NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player in 2013, has resumed his successful ways, ranking 11th in Division I with a .601 faceoff percentage and fifth with 9.7 ground balls per game.

The Blue Jays have their own standout at the X in junior Drew Kennedy, who ranks 13th with a .597 percentage and ninth with 8.7 ground balls per game. Kennedy won 14-of-26 draws and collected a game-high 10 ground balls in Sunday’s win against Virginia, which was a good sign for Pietramala.

“It was good to see us on the more positive side of faceoffs this week,” he said. “We’ve had our ups and downs in the last three to five weeks, and it’s been great to see Drew continue to improve and get better. This last game, they put a lot of pressure on him, and we’ve got to do a better job on the wings of alleviating some of that pressure and helping him, and we will do that. It was good to see him take a step forward and that’s important to take some of that momentum into playing against a guy like [Fowler].”

3) Johns Hopkins’ Rope unit vs. Duke’s first midfield. The Blue Devils’ reassertion as one of the most explosive offenses in the nation has been strengthened by the emergence of the starting midfield of sophomores Deemer Class and Myles Jones and senior Christian Walsh. Class (Loyola High) ranks second on the team in assists (27) and points (60), Jones is fourth in goals (30) and assists (20), and Walsh (Boys’ Latin) ranks fourth in assists (21).

ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said that how the Blue Jays’ first defensive midfield of junior long-stick midfielder Michael Pellegrino (24 ground balls and 13 caused turnovers) and a pair of short-stick defensive midfielders in senior Phil Castronova (23, 7) and freshman Joe Carlini (13, 4) matches up with Duke’s first line could be key to the outcome. 

“You’ve got to defend that first midfield,” the former Johns Hopkins midfielder said. “Those guys have been terrific and they can do things differently than a lot of other teams. Not only are they pretty strong dodgers, but they can also bring it from the outside. You have to defend that first midfield unit and you can’t get too preoccupied with them or [senior attackman Jordan] Wolf and the attack. You have to respect both. Duke is one of those teams that has a midfield that is just as dangerous or even more dangerous than their attack, and you have to defend them very, very well.”

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