They say that first impressions last a lifetime, and the first impression that the Duke lacrosse team made against Johns Hopkins in the NCAA championship quarterfinal showdown lasted the entire game.
The Blue Devils jumped out to a daunting 6-0 lead in the opening quarter and never looked back. While Johns Hopkins chipped away at the lead and eventually pulled to within two goals, Duke never trailed and looked dominant when it needed to be, winning 19-11.
In fact, it played the part of the defending champions and No. 1 seed in the tournament perfectly. Myles Jones led the way with three goals and four assists, and he has totaled 15 points in the last two games for the Blue Devils.
Despite the overall success of the two programs, Duke and Johns Hopkins hadn’t played each other since a 2010 postseason meeting. The Blue Devils dominated that contest, winning 18-5, but the Blue Jays actually held a 12-5 advantage in the all-time series heading into Sunday’s contest.
Johns Hopkins entered the game with plenty of momentum after winning six of its past seven games, but it was Duke that jumped out to a quick lead.
In fact, you couldn’t have scripted a better start for the Blue Devils, as the score was 3-0 before some fans even settled in their seats. Interestingly enough, Duke was utilizing its depth early in the game, as Patrick Stevens of D1scourse.com noted:
Duke giving its second midfield an early run. Blue Devils need decent possessions out of the group the rest of the tournament.— Patrick Stevens (@D1scourse) May 18, 2014
Duke continued the dominating pace and eventually seized a commanding 6-0 lead in the first quarter. The team’s official Twitter page pointed out how things were going so well:
Duke's offense right now is unstoppable. A train running full speed ahead. 6-0 Devils over Johns Hopkins at 5:13 of 1st quarter. #goduke— Duke Men's Lacrosse (@Duke_MLAX) May 18, 2014
Johns Hopkins' offense finally got on the board late in the first quarter, yet it was clear that the Blue Devils’ physical defense and goalie Luke Aaron were giving the Blue Jays some trouble. Head coach Dave Pietramala discussed his concerns going up against Aaron, via Edward Lee of The Baltimore Sun:
One of things people don’t talk about is, when you’ve got a big goalie in there, people can tend to overthink it… Not saves, but missed shots because they’re trying to be too fine with their shots because it’s a big guy. Something I’ve learned over the course of time is that it is an important piece to think about when you’re facing a big goalie or a really good goalie. Those guys can tend to make you think about your shot and miss more. So I think it’s very important for us not to overthink things and to just continue to shoot good shots to what we believe are good places, and hopefully, we’ll be able to generate enough of those.
Duke eventually built a 7-3 lead after the first quarter.
The Blue Devils continued to play effectively in the second quarter, and the only thing that was keeping Johns Hopkins in the game was Duke's penalties. Duke is known as a physical squad, so that was somewhat expected, but there was little doubt which team controlled the early proceedings.
Historically speaking, things didn't look promising for the Blue Jays when Duke grabbed a 10-4 lead in the second quarter:
It was 12-5 Duke with minutes to go until halftime, but Johns Hopkins finished the first half with a flurry to cut the lead to 12-8. Stevens explained how Duke was letting the Blue Jays hang around:
Duke's offense has been flat-out phenomenal. But the Blue Devils haven't put to rest any concerns about their defensive limitations today.— Patrick Stevens (@D1scourse) May 18, 2014
Duke began the second half without attacker Josh Dionne thanks to a lower-body injury.
Johns Hopkins took advantage out of the gates and cut the lead to 12-10 within minutes. Duke responded by pulling Aaron for new goalkeeper Kyle Turri, which was interesting considering the Blue Jays were worried about Aaron's size before the contest.
Will Duke win another NCAA championship?
Duke's Jordan Wolf responded accordingly, though, and scored back-to-back goals to stretch the lead to 14-10. The timely goals gave him his 32nd hat-trick, and it gave the Blue Devils a 14-10 lead through three quarters.
With 15 minutes separating one of these squads from the Final Four, Johns Hopkins came out with the initial goal of the final quarter.
However, the Blue Devils responded as they had all game. Duke put home two goals in the span of 40 seconds to stretch the lead to 16-11, and the frustration from a Johns Hopkins squad that was battling from behind all game was apparent.
From there, Duke controlled the pace in the final minutes. Stevens pointed out there was little resistance from the Johns Hopkins defense:
Myles Jones up to 3&4 after plowing through the Hopkins defense. Duke 18-11. Choose-your-own-score time for the Blue Devils.— Patrick Stevens (@D1scourse) May 18, 2014
After some easy goals as time ticked away, the Blue Devils emerged victorious 19-11.
Duke will play the winner of the Denver and Drexel showdown in the semifinals Saturday.
Which team would give Duke a better game?
While either Denver or Drexel will certainly pose as a difficult challenge for the Blue Devils, they are the top seed in this tournament and have plenty of momentum on their side after knocking off the perennially difficult Blue Jays.
Look for the Blue Devils to once again jump out to a fast lead in the semifinals and put it on cruise control on the way to a victory, much like we saw Sunday. That would put the defending champions right back in the title game.