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

Johns Hopkins' Shack Stanwick, left, shoots and scores on North Carolina goalie Brian Balkam for Hopkins' sixth goal of the game in the third quarter on Feb. 28, 2016.
Johns Hopkins' Shack Stanwick, left, shoots and scores on North Carolina goalie Brian Balkam for Hopkins' sixth goal of the game in the third quarter on Feb. 28, 2016. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Johns Hopkins maintains a narrow 28-25-1 lead against Syracuse, but the Orange have won three of the past four meetings. Fifteen of the last 27 games between the two sides have been decided by two goals or less.

The No. 3 Orange (5-0) nipped Virginia, 14-13, on March 4 in their only road contest of the season. While the program is known for its offense, the defense currently ranks eighth in Division I in fewest goals allowed per game (7.4). Redshirt senior defenseman Brandon Mullins (11 ground balls and nine caused turnovers) and freshman Nick Mellen (18 GB, 7 CT) anchor Syracuse on that end of the field.

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The No. 8 Blue Jays (3-2) have won two straight at home since losing, 15-11, to No. 17 North Carolina on Feb. 28. Senior attackman Ryan Brown (Calvert Hall), who scored a career-high eight goals against the Orange in the last meeting in Baltimore, continues to rise up the program's charts. With four goals in a 14-8 victory over No. 9 Towson a week ago, Brown became the first player to record 20 career hat tricks since former attackman and current offensive coordinator Bobby Benson posted 23 from 2000 to 2003.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Homewood Field in Baltimore on Saturday at 4 p.m.

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1) Syracuse's Dylan Donahue. The offense graduated five starters, but has plugged those holes with former reserves (senior attackman Tim Barber and junior attackman Jordan Evans) and transfers (junior midfielder Nick Mariano of Massachusetts and fifth-year senior attackman Nick Piroli of Brown). But the playmaker is Donahue, a redshirt senior who leads the Orange in assists (15) and points (25). Donahue's emergence is somewhat surprising considering his reputation as a finisher, but Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said Donahue is the team's most accomplished player.

"I think there's an emphasis on their smartest player, their most poised player, and their most experienced player to have the ball a bit more," Pietramala said. "He's a coach's son [Kevin Donahue is the team's offensive coordinator]. There's nothing selfish about him. He's constantly distributing the ball, trying to get others involved, and I think he understands pace of play and tempo and he understands maybe when it's time to get the ball up top and let the middies have a go. I think he's done a great job with that, and it comes as no surprise."

2) Syracuse's defense. Virginia is the only team to score 10 goals or more against the Orange. Senior goalkeeper Warren Hill ranks eighth in the nation in goals-against average (7.33), but he has been aided by teammates like Mullins and Mellen mentioned above. But CBS Sports Network analyst Steve Panarelli pointed out that the defense is not invincible, especially when matched up against opponents who work off-ball – as Johns Hopkins can do.

"They're not a great off-ball defense," the former three-time All-American Syracuse defenseman said. "You can catch them sleeping at times. The guys off-ball will have to do a good job of moving and the guys that are dodging with the ball have to draw slides, and they're going to have move it and catch these guys spinning because that's maybe their weakest part of their team. Individually, they've got great athletes, guys who can cover one-on-one. For Hopkins, it's going to be some of those guys off-ball – popping off the crease, guys cutting backside."

3) Syracuse's faceoffs. Junior Ben Williams' prowess at the X is a huge reason why the Orange lead the country in faceoff percentage at 71.8 percent. Williams' success has meant multiple and frequent possessions for the offense, which the unit has capitalized on. Panarelli said Syracuse must use its advantage on draws because when Johns Hopkins has the ball, the Blue Jays will attempt to hold onto it for extended possessions on offense and keep their defense fresh.

"That's going to be key for them," he said. "If you're winning faceoffs, the other team can't really slow it down on you, and they can't really play at the pace they want. Winning faceoffs is key for transitions because six-on-six is going to be tough."

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