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North Carolina at Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse: Three things to watch

Johns Hopkins is nursing a 24-20 lead in this series thanks to North Carolina winning eight of the past nine meetings. Five of those nine games were decided by three goals or fewer, and the Tar Heels have won the last three contests at Homewood Field.

No. 11 North Carolina (2-1) defeated Michigan and Furman by 10 and eight goals, respectively, before getting shocked, 10-5, by Hofstra eight days ago. The team has relied on Stephen Kelly (Calvert Hall) to set up the offense. The junior faceoff specialist has won 57.6 percent (34 of 59) of the draws he has taken and leads the Tar Heels in ground balls with 17.

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No. 8 Johns Hopkins (1-1) also suffered its first loss of the season last Saturday, falling to No. 6 Loyola Maryland, 9-8. As good as Kelly has been for North Carolina, Craig Madarasz has been even better for the Blue Jays. The senior has won 60 percent (27 of 45) of his faceoffs, leads the team in ground balls with 13, and has scored a goal.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Homewood Field in Baltimore on Sunday at 12 p.m.

1) Setting up early on defense. North Carolina has averaged 13 goals in three games thanks to a starting attack of junior Luke Goldstock (six goals and five assists), senior Steve Pontrello (8 G, 1 A) and sophomore Chris Cloutier (8 G). Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala noted, however, that the Tar Heels don't just settle for goals in traditional six-on-six sets.

"We cannot allow transition," he said. "And the next thing they do is they play in that quick-strike offense. In the first 10 seconds of the possession, we've got to really be on high alert and be organized and not allow them to drag you off a pick or run a little slip-pick behind the goal before everybody can kind of set up. … We had to be really good at those against Loyola, and I think we could have been better. I thought we did a better job at transition, but could have been better at the quick-strike stuff."

2) Caring for the ball. Johns Hopkins has committed 30 turnovers in two contests, which became particularly bothersome in the loss against Loyola. In the first half, the team coughed up the ball 10 times and failed to clear the ball on four of eight occasions, which contributed to the Blue Jays trailing, 5-2, at halftime. North Carolina's opponents have turned the ball over 14.3 times per game, which will put an onus on ball protection.

"We've got to value the ball," Pietramala said. "We can't fail to clear unnecessarily three or four times and not get those possessions to our offense. We failed to clear three or four times [against Loyola], and if our offense has those possessions and our offense doesn't turn the ball over three or four times, do we get one or two more goals out of those six, seven or eight possessions?"

3) Pouncing on man-up chances. After converting 38 of 82 (46.3 percent) extra-man opportunities last spring, Johns Hopkins is 4-for-8 (50 percent) thus far. The offense might be able to raise its success rate against North Carolina, which has been in 14 man-down situations which ranks the fourth-highest total in Division I. Then again, the Tar Heels have surrendered just two extra-man goals, but going man-down can add stress to a defense.

"I think what you're seeing there is that Carolina is an aggressive team," Pietramala said. "When you're in 10-man and you take some risks and you're sliding up the field and putting pressure on teams, there are moments when you're going to foul. Defensively, they're long, they're rangy, and they are aggressive. They get a little further out on you, and they do get after you a little bit more. On loose balls, they're going to be physical. So when you play that style, the tendency is that you do get a couple more fouls. I think you've got to look at the plus-minus of that though. Is that aggressiveness paying off with caused turnovers? Is it paying off with additional possessions for your offense and fewer possessions for your defense to defend?"

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