With freshman and Calvert Hall graduate Stephen Kelly undergoing surgery on a broken right wrist on Monday, No. 6 North Carolina is turning to another – and familiar – Baltimore area product to face off in Saturday’s showdown at No. 10 Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Senior R.G. Keenan, a Boys’ Latin graduate, has played sparingly in the last two games against Harvard and then-No. 1 Maryland after sitting out the previous five contests with a leg injury.
Keenan, who entered the season ranked second in school history in faceoff wins (594) and attempts (1,035), will be part of a rotation that includes sophomore Brent Armstrong and senior Frankie Kelly (Calvert Hall), but coach Joe Breschi said a healthy Keenan would be a boon for the Tar Heels (7-2).
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“We’re trying to get R.G. Keenan back as quickly as we can,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s not going as fast as we would like, but he’s starting to make strides, which is good. Frankie Kelly, Brent Armstrong and even some other guys, we’re doing it by committee, and we’re hoping that based on how faceoffs usually are in a game, it comes down to matchups. We’ll keep trying different guys and hopefully come away at 50 percent. That’s what our hope is.”
Stephen Kelly had won 61.2 percent (74 of 121) of his faceoffs and scooped up a team-high 47 ground balls before suffering his wrist injury in the first quarter of the team’s 13-10 victory over Harvard on March 18. There is a possibility that Kelly could return this season, but Breschi said there is no timetable for his return.
“It’s a matter of what the medical people say and when he can get cleared by them,” he said.
As important as faceoffs are to gaining possession and controlling tempo, Breschi pointed out that North Carolina has had a wacky relationship with draws. The team outdueled Duke 13-7 on faceoffs, but lost 9-8 in overtime on March 15. The Terps won 16 of 23 draws, but the Tar Heels emerged with an 11-8 victory.
“At the end of the day, I think what it does do is it puts a little more pressure on your defense to get stops,” Breschi said of losing faceoffs. “You’ve got to be sound in the defensive end, you’ve got to clear the ball efficiently, and you’ve got to take care of the ball. You’ve got to have good possessions offensively. Our goal is to continue to push our guys to get better. We spend a ton of time on faceoffs, and we’ll continue to do so until we improve there.”