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Duke men's lacrosse looking to snag first Final Four berth since 2014

<p>Justin Guterding will enter Sunday's contest merely three goals shy of the all-time NCAA Division I career scoring record.</p>

Justin Guterding will enter Sunday's contest merely three goals shy of the all-time NCAA Division I career scoring record.

After last year’s quarterfinal exit in the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils now have a shot at redemption.

But with a tenacious Johns Hopkins squad standing in its way, Duke will need all of its key performers to turn up the heat this weekend.

The fourth-seeded Blue Devils will travel to Annapolis, Md., to take on the No. 5 seed Blue Jays at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Coming off a strong 17-11 win against Villanova in the opening round, Duke has shown no signs of losing steam in its quest for a national title. 

However, Johns Hopkins has proven to be a team that refuses to go down easy and will certainly keep the pressure on the Blue Devils down to the final second.

“[The quarterfinal game] is the hardest game to win, but once again we've talked all year and it's hard,” Duke head coach John Danowski said. “We scheduled two games in three days, we scheduled two games in two days. We tried to schedule the best opponents that we could find and so week after week there are different challenges…. There are all these different challenges over the course of a week you can hope that students are learning from those challenges.”

Luckily for the Blue Devils, Duke’s offense is clicking into place right at the right time.

The Blue Devils (14-3) have scored double-digit goals in their last five games, largely thanks to an offensive unit spearheaded by senior Justin Guterding and freshman Joe Robertson. 

Boasting 99 points on the season and a career total of 203 goals—just three shy of the NCAA career record—Guterding has been absolutely transcendent on the drive, leading his team in both goals and assists. Robertson is right behind him in goals with 41 this season thanks to a staggering 45.1 shot percentage.

Duke’s aggressive style starts with its faceoff specialists, who—despite a slow start to the season—have caught fire during the tail end of the campaign. Sophomore Brian Smyth has has won more than half of the draws in five of the Blue Devils’ last six game. And in Duke’s recent win against the Wildcats, Smyth absolutely dominated the center of the field, winning 23 out of 28 faceoffs. 

If the West Hartford, Conn., native can continue to give his team the early offensive advantage, Johns Hopkins will be hard pressed to put the brakes on the Blue Devils.

“This is the most unique group I've ever coached for sure, on a lot of different levels,” Danowski said. “By any number, they've been outstanding, whether it's number of wins, whether it's their shot on goal percentage, whether it's their goals, whether it's their goalie's save percentage, whether it's Justin's numbers or by any metric it is one of our better teams.”

However, the Blue Jays (12-4) are no strangers to standing strong in the face of tough odds.

Although Johns Hopkins has a tendency to start off slow—being outscored 78-76 in the first half this season—the Blue Jays have more than made up for it in playing on another level coming out of the locker room. Johns Hopkins leads its opposition 113-72 in second-half goals, though, this has often left the Blue Jays with wins coming a bit too close for comfort. 

Each of Johns Hopkins’ last nine games has been decided by three goals or fewer. 

“We had leads in all three games that we've lost this year in the fourth quarter, so we've definitely placed emphasis on [playing down the stretch],” Guterding said. “We've been practicing with a lead and consequence drills and stuff like that so we've definitely learned from that, and I think it has been paying off.”

The secret to the Blue Jays’ success down the stretch has been a mixture of a lockdown defense and a bevy of scoring options.

Johns Hopkins boasts four players topping the 40-point mark for the season, including Kyle Marr and Joel Tinney with 55 and 52, respectively. Shack Stanwick has proven to be especially effective in spreading the field, totaling 33 assists on the season, with four coming in last week’s overtime win against Georgetown.

On the defensive end the Blue Jays have held opponents scoreless for more than 10-minute stretches on 26 occasions this season. With the Blue Devils sometimes falling into traps of a streaky offense, Duke must be wary of Johns Hopkins talented backfield.

“We've seen [a zone defense] out of Hopkins,” Guterding said. “It's definitely a possibility of them shutting us off. They can definitely throw anything at us so we have to be prepared for everything. If they do shut, guys are certainly able to make plays and that's something certainly important down the road.”

If the Blue Devils can take down the Blue Jays, Duke will punch its first ticket to the national semifinals since its championship-winning run in 2014. That contest would be played next Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.  

“It is just another game, but it is a big game as it could end 15 guys' careers,” Guterding said. “We seniors are so emotionally invested in this we want to get back to where we feel we belong.”


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