Johns Hopkins has qualified for 41 consecutive NCAA tournaments, making the field every year since the tournament format was implemented for the 1971 season. At this point, a 42nd appearance is becoming a murkier proposition.
Friday night’s 10-9 loss to No. 19 Albany dropped the No. 12 Blue Jays to 6-4 overall. That is not a death knell for a program that has captured nine national championships, but the warning signs are there.
Johns Hopkins has lost three of its last four contests and is 1-4 against ranked opponents in The Sun’s Top 20. The team has lost to No. 3 North Carolina, No. 8 Princeton, No. 9 Syracuse and now the Great Danes with a lone win coming against No. 15 Virginia.
The offense is steadily losing traction. Outside of sophomore attackman Wells Stanwick who leads the unit in assists (16) and points (38) and is tied with junior attackman Brandon Benn for the team lead in goals (22), the Blue Jays don’t seem to have an offensive player who can consistently break down an opposing defense.
Johns Hopkins’ defense played well in the setback to Albany, especially senior defenseman Tucker Durkin who snapped sophomore attackman Lyle Thompson’s 18-game point streak and contributed to him committing five turnovers. But the unit has been exposed by opposing attacks fielded by the Tar Heels and Great Danes in back-to-back contests.
The Blue Jays have four more games to polish their tournament resume, but it won’t be easy. No. 4 Maryland, which defeated Navy, 11-8, Friday night to improve to 8-1, looms as the next opponent, and the Terps have won three of the last four meetings.
Johns Hopkins has strung together 13 straight victories against No. 10 Loyola (8-2), but the reigning national champion appears to have repaired issues that plagued the defense earlier in the season. Even Navy (3-8) has won two of its last three contests against the Blue Jays.
So how will the Johns Hopkins players deal with an expected surge in pressure? Durkin laid out the team’s mindset quite succinctly.
“We’re 0-0,” he said. “We’re obviously not in the position we had hoped to [be in] at this point in the season. Coach [Dave Pietramala] said it’s almost like the playoffs start now. We’ve got to get back to work immediately. Our minds are on Maryland right now. We’re 0-0. We’ve got to take it one step at a time, one practice at a time, one drill at a time starting on Monday. It hurts right now obviously, but we can’t let this keep us down. We’re not a team that doesn’t fight, and we will continue to do so, and it’s going to start Monday.”
*Thompson had entered Friday’s game averaging 7.1 points, but he was hampered by Durkin’s physical style of play. Curiously, Thompson said Albany’s coaching staff had warned him of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Durkin’s strengths before the contest. “Before I even came in, the coaches were telling me that he’s physical, and it made me want to do more scouting on him and watch some film on him, but I don’t like to do that,” Thompson said. “So I came in, and he was physical. He’s a good defender, and he definitely had the best of me. But the coaches never give up on me. That feels good, for the coaches to just keep having faith in me. All day, it just wasn’t my day, but the coaches just kept asking me what I wanted. [Assistant] coach [Eric] Wolf was asking me if I still wanted to dodge. I said, ‘Yeah,’ and my teammates just picked us up and got the W.” Durkin declined to make much of his performance against Thompson. “If we were sitting here and he had nine points and we won 10-9, I’d be much happier.”
*Albany (7-3) forced the Blue Jays into a season-low 20.5 shooting percentage as the offense turned just 44 shots into nine goals. Johns Hopkins put 30 shots on net, but freshman goalkeeper Blaze Riorden made a game-high 20 saves, and Great Danes coach Scott Marr said the defense was able to direct the Blue Jays shooters into taking low-percentage shots. “We didn’t give up a lot of inside stuff,” Marr said. “Like Blaze said, we pushed them down the side. We forced them into taking shots that weren’t what I would consider quality shots. So Blaze was able to see things. A lot of them were on-the-run type of stuff. So there wasn’t a lot of ball movement necessarily. He was able to see things pretty clearly.” Stanwick agreed – slightly. “I just think we weren’t capitalizing,” said Stanwick, who took five shots. “We weren’t shooting the ball well tonight. You can’t blame the loss just on shooting. Yeah, they probably put us in a couple bad spots, but I think we had enough good opportunities in the game to score more goals.”
*Doug Eich’s game-winning goal almost never materialized. When the junior long-stick midfielder caught an outlet pass from Riorden and crossed the midline, Marr said he considered calling a timeout to design a play. “But about five or six yards outside the top of the box, Doug’s not the fastest kid, but he kind of got separation, and I said, ‘I’m going to wait and see how it plays out,’ and obviously, it played out well,” Marr said. “Yeah, we typically are on our guys to move the ball to Lyle, but he made a good read.”
*After the first five minutes of the second quarter, Riorden’s night appeared to be finished after he absorbed a shot by Benn to what appeared to be his groin area, and officials called an injury timeout with 8:09 left in the period. After laying on the turf for several minutes, Riorden walked off the field on his own power, but needed several minutes to recover. Sophomore Max Huber replaced Riorden and promptly made a stick save on Johns Hopkins senior midfielder John Ranagan from the left alley. Riorden returned when Albany called a timeout with 5:35 remaining, but Riorden praised his teammate’s play. “Every day, we tell everyone that whether you’re the first guy on our roster or the last guy on our roster, you mean something to this team,” he said. “Yesterday, we had a speech and said that someone on this team is going to have to step up this year, and Max Huber stepped up for us and made a huge save and kept the momentum going our way.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun