Johns Hopkins’ 12-7 advantage in this series has been trimmed by Duke’s three-game winning streak that includes a 19-6 shellacking in an NCAA tournament first-round game last season. The Blue Jays own a 29-12 record in the quarterfinals, but had lost in four straight appearances before knocking off Syracuse in 2015. The Blue Devils are 10-5 at this stage of the tournament and 8-1 under coach John Danowski.
Johns Hopkins (12-4), the No. 5 seed in the tournament, has won three straight games, including a 13-10 victory over Maryland to capture the program’s second Big Ten tournament championship in four years. The Blue Jays are fueled by an offense that ranks ninth in the country in scoring at 11.9 goals per game and 10th in assists per game at 7.3. The senior duo of attackman Shack Stanwick (Boys’ Latin) and midfielder Joel Tinney leads the team in assists with 33 and 31, respectively, and are the first pair of teammates in program history to top 30 assists in the same season.
Duke (14-3), the No. 4 seed, has won six of its past seven games with the only setback coming against Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. The Blue Devils are one of only two teams left in the tournament that boast top 10 offenses and defenses. (No. 2 seed Albany is the other.) Graduate student goalkeeper Danny Fowler, the school’s first two-time All-ACC selection, ranks 11th in the nation in goals-against average (8.36) and 16th in save percentage (.537).
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
1) Can Johns Hopkins slow Duke early? The Blue Devils have been a strong team from the outset all season, outscoring their opponents 50-34 in the first quarter and 70-31 in the second. That might not seem to bode well for the Blue Jays, who have trailed at halftime in six of their past nine games. On the flipside, they have outscored their past 13 opponents, 105-55, in the second half, but coach Dave Pietramala is aware the team can’t risk slipping into an early deficit against Duke.
“They have the ability to score in bunches, and certainly it helps them get into a rhythm, develop confidence, and playing from in front rather than from behind is a distinct advantage,” he said. “So we’ve got to do a really good job of keeping them from having those spurts.”
2) Can Johns Hopkins keep Duke’s man-up offense on the sideline? The Blue Devils have capitalized on opponents committing penalties this spring, converting 53.1 percent of their extra-man opportunities (17 of 32) to rank fourth in Division I. The Blue Jays are tied for 38th in the nation in man-down defense (66.7 percent), but have surrendered only two extra-man goals in nine attempts in their past four games. Still, Pietramala knows the players have to avoid the unnecessary penalties that can further fuel a potent Duke offense.
“Discipline is an important part of this game,” he said. “We have to be aggressively disciplined. I don’t think we can afford not to be aggressive and just sit back because they’re too good of a team to allow them to dictate things. If we’re in the box six, seven, eight times, that’s a challenge. They are outstanding in the area of special teams.”
3) Can Johns Hopkins create more possessions via the ride? One key in Sunday’s 10-9 overtime win against Georgetown was the Blue Jays’ ability to force the Hoyas into failing on five of 17 clears. That might not sound like much, but that’s at least five times when the ball was returned to the offense, and on one occasion, sophomore attackman Cole Williams stripped senior short-stick defensive midfielder Ryan Hursey (Westminster) of the ball and Tinney for his second goal of the game. Pietramala said the ride is an important aspect of the team’s transition defense.
“When you ride the ball back, it’s like winning a faceoff,” he said. “You’re gaining another possession. So those failed clears are instrumental in our ability to get into a rhythm offensively, to get the ball back and get a second-chance opportunity, which – if you’re not having your best day at the X or you’re not getting stops defensively – does help you overcome those challenges.”