Midfielder JT Blubaugh was sorting through the myriad difficulties the Ohio State offense experienced in a 7-4 victory over Loyola of Maryland in the first round of the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament when he paused to throw a bouquet to a teammate.

“Thank God for the defense — Tom Carey played great,” Blubaugh said of the fifth-year senior goalkeeper.

Carey had 12 saves in that game, saving the day for the Buckeyes and getting them into an NCAA quarterfinal against Duke at noon today in Hempstead, New York.

“He has been turning it on lately,” defenseman Ben Randall said. “We trust him. We love him in the cage. He communicates with us and trusts us, and we look for him to make big saves.”

Those who vote for the All-Big Ten team paid attention — the selected Carey for the first team. He has a career low 7.98 goals-against average and a save percentage of .546.

ESPN analysts have been raving about Carey since the start of the Big Ten tournament. At the beginning of the season, though, he was pulled 15 minutes into an 8-7 victory over Massachusetts and didn’t play in wins over Marquette and Bellarmine.

“Things weren’t going great for me at the beginning of the year,” Carey said. “I didn’t have the fall practice that I wanted to have, and that slowed me down. We’re a unit and I developed trust in my guys. We grind it every day.”

It wasn’t as though Carey was slacking, but he was not playing up to the high standards that he and the coaching staff set. This is his third season as a starter.

Then Carey turned into, well, Carey, with eight saves in a 6-3 victory over Towson, 11 saves in a 16-7 victory over Denver and nine saves in a 12-7 loss to Notre Dame. Each of those opponents made the NCAA tournament.

“Tom is hard on himself, and that’s a credit to his hard work,” coach Nick Myers said. “We talked about what the standard was and what we felt he could attain. It was kind of resetting his work ethic specific to a goal to be one of the premier goalies in the Big Ten and the country. I think he has proven that he is in the conversation.”

As example of how locked in Carey has become came with 36.9 seconds left in a Big Ten tournament semifinal when he stopped a shot from point-blank range in a 15-13 victory over Johns Hopkins.

“With a goalie, it’s hard when you see that much rubber during the course of the season and you can get worn down,” Myers said. “He is seeing the ball as well as he has seen it all year.”

Carey, though, doesn’t want individual credit.

“It sounds cliché, but we play with seven guys on the defensive front. I’m only as good as those guys are, and they’ve been playing really well,” he said.

His father, James Carey, started Tom playing in the field, but Mike Carey turned his younger brother into a goalkeeper when they were growing up in New Canaan, Connecticut.

“Mike needed someone to shoot at,” Tom said, smiling.