BALTIMORE -- Saturday's NCAA semifinal games couldn't have been more different.
In the first game, Johns Hopkins controlled the pace of play from the start. The Blue Jays kept Delaware from settling into its game and prevented the unseeded Blue Hens from running and scoring in transition. Delaware shot a measly 3-for-37 and missed the goal 24 times. You aren't going to beat a quality opponent when you miss the goal that much.
All eight of Hopkins' goals were unassisted; the Blue Jays weren't able to establish their passing game. They did, however, do a wonderful job facing off against Delaware's Alex Smith -- which was one of the keys to the game. Stephen Peyeser and Michael Kimmel both tallied hat tricks, while goalie Jesse Schwartzman was his usual unstoppable self. With the win, Schwartzman's playoff record improves to 9-1.
Johns Hopkins was happy to walk away with the win, but the record-breaking 52,004 crowd couldn't have been too happy about watching one of the slowest, least fan-friendly games I've ever seen in the semifinals.
But the crowd wasn't disappointed for long. Duke and Cornell treated everyone to one of the best semifinal games in recent NCAA Tournament history.
Pitting the only undefeated team left in the country against the No. 1 seed is a recipe for success -- and the teams delivered on the hype. The game got off to an amazing start -- Cornell's Max Seibald got leveled in the first 38 seconds -- and the intensity, playmaking and goal tending never waned. Duke reeled off five quick goals before the half to build a comfortable lead, and extended it to 10-3 in the third quarter.
But Cornell, one of two teams to defeat the Blue Devils in the regular season, didn't quit. The Big Red rallied for a run of their own, tying the game with less than a minute to play. Duke's Zack Greer fired off a shot with just 3 seconds remaining to give the Blue Devils the 12-11 win.
The major difference between this game and the regular-season matchup was Cornell's scoreless streak. The Big Red were held without a goal for more than 29 minutes -- an eternity in such a fast-paced sport. By the time Cornell got back in the game, the deficit was too much to overcome.
The players battled 100-degree temperatures, and a number of Duke's starters had problems with cramping and dehydration. I've never seen players so tired after a game. How well they are able to recover will be a major key to Monday's title game (ESPN, 1 p.m. ET). A tired, slow game could favor Hopkins, which prefers playing a half-field game. The Blue Jays will also be fresher, as they played more people in Saturday's semifinal and didn't have to go wire-to-wire with Delaware.
Most are favoring Duke, however, because of the Blue Devils' senior leadership. Matt Danowski and his classmates are focused on ending their college careers as NCAA champions, and they will play a large role in deciding the outcome of the game. Everything that happened last year has humbled the team and made them appreciate lacrosse. They're now where they want to be.
When the teams met in the regular season, Duke marched to an 11-9 win on the strength of Greer's six goals and Danowski's four assists. Duke is undefeated when Greer scores at least a hat trick, and shutting down Duke's dynamic duo will be priority No. 1 for the Blue Jays.
Duke has its own challenge in stopping a talented Hopkins squad led by decorated middie Paul Rabil. The Blue Jays also have history on their side; they'll be competing for their ninth championship. Duke has yet to bring home a men's lacrosse title.
Duke is a national story. Johns Hopkins is a national program with a large fan base in Baltimore. M&T Bank Stadium is an incredible venue. The NCAA championship has a little something for everyone.
Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.