BALTIMORE —- Johns Hopkins’ NCAA tournament opener did not feature crisp offense in the first half.
Nor did it include perfect stick skills.
Nor did the Blue Jays seem fully at ease for more than 40 minutes.
Hopkins, though, had one thing working well all day: Midfielder Matt Dolente.
The senior won 13 of 20 faceoffs as the third-seeded Blue Jays dispatched Hofstra 12-5 at Homewood Field to advance to next weekend’s quarterfinals.
“In the end, it was about one stat: Faceoffs,” Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “That was the stat. When you look at Hofstra and Hopkins, you’re almost looking at a mirror image of each other to a point. We play defense similarly. We play offense similarly. I don’t know if either of us is afraid to run, but I don’t think either of us is winning a sprint. The team that had the ball was the team that was going to have the opportunity to win.”
Kyle Wharton scored three goals for the Blue Jays (13-2), who have won eight straight and will meet either sixth-seeded Denver or Villanova at Hofstra on Saturday.
The Pride (13-3) scored just three goals in the final 56 minutes as they stumbled to their fifth straight NCAA tournament loss —- and their fourth opening round ouster in as many seasons.
There was little artistry on display for Hopkins, which spotted Hofstra a two-goal edge, needed nearly 18 minutes to score for the first time and found itself tied at 4-4 entering the break.
Yet the Jays always had Dolente, who entered the postseason as the nation’s leader in faceoff winning percentage (.673).
He thrived even against Hofstra’s John Antoniades, who ranked third nationally with a .611 winning percentage but was 4-for-14 with five violations against Dolente. The Pride eventually cycled two other options in at the X, but it made little difference.
“It also helps when you’re in a high-pressure game like this that I was able to stay out there and stay in a rhythm whereas they were forced to change guys up a little bit,” Dolente said.
The accumulated time on the field eventually wearied the Pride, which closed within 6-5 late in the third quarter and soon crumbled. Chris Boland and Wharton scored within a minute to stretch Hopkins’ lead to 8-5, and John Greeley’s dart with 11:40 to play effectively sealed things for the Blue Jays.
Hofstra took only nine shots in the second half, with Hopkins goalie Pierce Bassett stopping five —- including an emphatic point-blank stop of Hofstra attackman Jamie Lincoln with 5:48 left.
The possession advantage more than mitigated Hopkins’ early sluggishness, which dissipated as the day progressed.
“Certainly, you’re going to wear down if you have the ball for 35 percent of the quarter,” Wharton said. “During the first half, we were a little nervous and gripping our sticks a little too tight. You could see that through the turnovers that we were making.”
After a tentative first half, the Blue Jays did nearly everything necessary to ensure a comfortable margin. They made eight of their 16 shots, benefited from a juggled first midfield line (Lee Coppersmith was bumped up after the break) and a defense that thrived all day limited Lincoln and Jay Card to a combined goal and three assists.
And the draws? Dolente kept winning them, booking Hopkins passage into the second weekend of the tournament.
“The faceoff game hurt us a little bit today,” Hofstra coach Seth Tierney said. “You need the ball if you’re going to beat the No. 3 team in the country. You’re not going to do it without the ball. No. 4 played a big role in that today.”
—- Patrick Stevens