Duke Blue Devils one win away from returning to lacrosse final four

Hoping to climb its way back among the elite of NCAA men’s lacrosse, Duke faces an important opportunity Saturday that would allow it to exorcise an old demon.

Two years ago, the Blue Devils were the guys the rest of the country chased, having won back-to-back NCAA championships with three titles in a five-year period.

That all ended when Ohio State came to Koskinen Stadium and ran the Blue Devils off their home field, posting a 16-11 NCAA tournament first-round win on May 9, 2015.

This past Saturday, Duke routed Johns Hopkins 19-6 in Baltimore for the Blue Devils’ first NCAA tournament win since their last national championship in 2014.

It set up a quarterfinal round game against, yes, Ohio State on Saturday (noon, ESPNU) at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium in Hempsted, New York.

The impending game, where the winner will advance to the final four, caused some former Duke players to reach out to the team this week.

“I’ve gotten a few texts from the seniors from when I was a freshman,” Duke junior attackman Justin Guterding said. “They said ‘Go beat those guys. They ended my career.’ I don’t want to do anything else but that.”

Prior to that 2015 loss to the Buckeyes, Duke had reached the men’s lacrosse final four in eight consecutive seasons, winning NCAA championships in 2010, 2013 and 2014.

Now the Blue Devils (13-4) find themselves one win away from returning. As thorough as their beating of Johns Hopkins was last weekend, the Blue Devils aren’t satisfied.

“I got my first one but I’m not done,” said Guterding, who scored four goals and handed out six assists for 10 points against Johns Hopkins. “I don’t want to be happy with one playoff win. That’s not what I came here for. I came here to win a national championship. It’s a great feeling to have that first win but it’s certainly not done.”

Ohio State (14-4) earned the No. 3 national seed for this year’s tournament. The Buckeyes beat Loyola, 7-4, in their first-round game last weekend.

One of the most important individual battles on Saturday will be in the face-off X. Ohio State’s Jake Withers is one of the best in the country, ranking third nationally with a .666 win percentage. He has won 235-of-353 draws and picked up 131 ground balls.

Duke counters with Kyle Rowe, who has won 60 percent of his face offs this season to rank No. 13 nationally. Rowe is eighth nationally by securing 8.33 ground balls per game and Withers is ninth with 7.28.

“Jake Withers is really good,” Rowe said. “He’s really versatile and has a lot of moves. I have to be ready to do anything. You have to really be ready to fight for the ground balls. He’s an incredible ground ball guy. Their wings are super athletic and really good. You have to have good communication between the wings. Basically everyone has to be ready to fight.”

Duke has shown plenty of fight all season. It started when coach John Danowski told the team he thought they had the talent to go 7-7 this season. The Blue Devils have surpassed that.

“We proved him wrong,” Guterding said. “We proved a lot of people wrong this year. It feels good to be one of those leaders that are pushing our guys, our younger guys, and they are stepping up to the challenge.”

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC

Duke vs. Ohio State

NCAA lacrosse tournament quarterfinal

When: Noon, Saturday

Where: Shuart Stadium, Hempsted, New York