Ohio State put to rest any discussion that it was an outlier in big-time lacrosse two years ago when it defeated Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament and took eventual national champion Denver to the limit before losing by two goals in a quarterfinal.

It was the third time in eight seasons the Buckeyes won a first-round game in the 16-team tournament. The second step, advancing to the semifinals, would further cement Ohio State's status among the elite.

Senior face-off specialist Jake Withers thinks OSU (14-4) will be ready to do that when it plays Duke (13-4) at noon Saturday in Hempstead, New York, on the campus of Hofstra University. The game will be televised on ESPNU.

Withers calls Duke a “blueblood,” and not in reference to the team’s primary color. The Blue Devils won national championships in 2010, ’13 and ’14 and made five other semifinal appearances since 2007.

“This is exciting for Midwest lacrosse and the community as whole,” he said. “We’re not only trying to get to the Final Four, but to win it all. When I came here as a freshman four years ago, there wasn’t much parity. Now, four years later, we’re up there with the Dukes, the (Johns) Hopkins and the Marylands — the bluebloods.”

One has to look only at the team’s common opponents to see that the Buckeyes can play with anyone. OSU and Duke defeated NCAA tournament teams Denver, Loyola, Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins and Marquette.

Ohio State split two games against Big Ten champion and No. 1 seed Maryland.

“In the years before, we’d go into those (big) games ... kind of starstruck,” Withers said. “Now, we have experience with these blueblood teams in the sport and we can play alongside any of them and beat any of them.”

Senior midfielder J.T. Blubaugh of DeSales remembers with anguish the 15-13 loss against Denver in the Elite Eight in 2015. The Buckeyes led 6-1 after one quarter.

“We’ve been here once before when I was a sophomore, and it was kind of a heart-breaker to Denver,” Blubaugh said. “It’s going to take every guy on the sideline and every guy on the field to achieve (a victory over Duke). Getting to the championship weekend would be a dream.”

Asked whether the team was capable of getting over the quarterfinal hump, Blubaugh had a ready answer.

“Getting over the hump — I think we did that last week,” he said of a 7-4 victory over Loyola of Maryland in the first round.

Duke has go-to scorers in Justin Guterding (49 goals), Jack Bruckner (44), Joey Manown (28) and Brad Smith and Kevin Quigley (19 each).

Goalkeeper Danny Fowler has a goals-against average of 8.33 and a .537 save percentage. Kyle Rowe has won 202 of 339 face-offs and has 118 ground balls.

Eighth-year Ohio State coach Nick Myers compared Duke’s explosiveness to several Big Ten teams.

“Duke is a completely different animal (than Loyola),” he said. “They have a very potent group. They scored almost 40 goals in their last two games and are playing with a lot of confidence. It hasn’t been one guy – they are balanced. It’s going to be a real chore for us Saturday. You look between the boxes and Duke is so athletic from restraining box to restraining box. You look at the Big Ten, a Penn State, a Maryland, a Rutgers, and they all give you that feel.”

Duke likes to have its defenders range far from the goal to pressure midfielders, and it will be a priority for Ohio State to avoid turnovers. It had 19 turnovers against Loyola.

The Buckeyes also missed two point-blank shots on the crease when the left side of the net was wide open. Another goal was nullified by a crease violation.

“As an offense we talked about fighting through possessions and looking for the best shot and not the first shot,” Blubaugh said. “We’ve focused on keeping things simple and playing through all of our sets.”

Attacker Colin Chell scored three goals in the last game against Duke. He said a major key will be to be relentless.

“We were happy to take down the defending champion, and we’re looking forward to doing it again,” he said. “They like to pressure on defense, and we’re ready for that. We have to play our best lacrosse – 60 minutes.”