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

Johns Hopkins enjoys an overwhelming 56-29 advantage in this series, but Princeton has won five of the last seven meetings. Ten of the last 16 games between the two sides have been decided by three goals or less, and the visitor has won each of the last five contests.

Princeton (1-1) is seeking its first victory on the road after dropping an 11-10 overtime decision at No. 9 Hofstra a week ago. An offense that has averaged 15.5 goals will be forced to play without do-it-all midfielder Zach Currier. The junior, who recorded two goals, three assists, eight ground balls and 5-of-9 faceoffs in the Tigers' 16-15 overtime win last season, will serve a one-game suspension after being ejected from Saturday's game after the game-winning goal in overtime was scored.

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No. 13 Johns Hopkins (1-2) is searching for its first win at home after absorbing a 15-11 setback to No. 10 North Carolina on Saturday. The offense is led by a pair of attackmen in senior Ryan Brown (11 goals and three assists) and sophomore Shack Stanwick (3 G, 11 A). Brown (Calvert Hall) needs just one point to extend his points streak to 38 consecutive games, which would snap a tie with former teammate Wells Stanwick as the program's longest streak since 2003.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Homewood Field in Baltimore on Saturday at 1 p.m.

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1) Defense. Johns Hopkins has surrendered an average of 11.7 goals including 15 to the Tar Heels and 11 to Navy. Coach Dave Pietramala said the players have shown glimpses of executing the defense as scripted, but the plays have been too inconsistent for his liking. The unit does feature five first-time starters, but Pietramala said the players have been a constant presence in practices and film rooms.

"We have to make better decisions on defense – when to go and when not to go," he said. "We've got to do a better job defensively. As I said after the [North Carolina] game, no one defensively was out. No one can say, 'Well, they're missing this guy or that guy defensively.' I know we have new people there. We've got to coach them up, we've got to execute the game plan, and we've got to perform."

2) Midfield. Injuries, ineffectiveness and a suspension have forced the Blue Jays to revamp their first line with juniors John Crawley and Kieran Eissler and freshman Kyle Marr starting against the Tar Heels. Crawley has become the midfield's most reliable performer as he ranks second in goals (five) and third in points (eight). But Pietramala said Crawley could use more assistance from his teammates on the first and second lines.

"We're asking an awful lot of him," Pietramala said. "He played on the first midfield, we moved him to attack. Then we moved him back to the first midfield, and we moved him back to attack. We moved him around and he was on the field a lot. In particular, he got caught playing defense. So we're asking an awful lot of him and quite frankly, I think we need to give him more help."

3) Beginnings. Both of Johns Hopkins' losses have been highlighted by slow starts. Loyola scored the last three goals of the first half to take a 5-2 lead into halftime en route to a 9-8 decision, and North Carolina sprinted to a 4-0 advantage in the first 13 minutes of the first quarter. The Blue Jays have changed up their practice routines in an effort to ignite the players, and Pietramala is hopeful that the players' energy and intensity will be improved against Princeton.

"If someone gets off the bus two games in a row and kind of jumps on you, maybe that's a bit of focus," he said. "I think that harkens back to the one thing that I said, that the greatest issue of us right now is our discipline. Discipline is doing what's right all the time, and what's right all the time is you get off the bus, you come out of the locker room, and you're ready to roll. So it is something that we've discussed immediately following the game and have tried to create ways to address that in practice. We've got to do a better job of focusing between the time when our warmup ends and when the game starts."

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