April 18, 2009

Courtesy of Cornell

Even after Cornell goalie Jake Myers made back-to-back tough saves to end the third quarter and keep Cornell ahead by two, the Princeton offense was still keeping the pressure up. In fact, the Tigers would score just nine seconds into their first settled possession of the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately for top-ranked Princeton, nearly 14 minutes had elapsed in the interim.

Cornell, ranked fourth by the coaches and fifth by the media, dominated face-offs and possession time, especially in the fourth quarter, and knocked off top-ranked Princeton 10-7 in front of 8,026 fans at Schoellkopf Field Saturday afternoon. The win clinched at least a tie for the Ivy League title for the Big Red and ended Princeton's six-game winning streak.

Princeton is now 24-4 in regular-season games as the No. 1 team in the country.

 "I thought the saves at the end of the third quarter were big," said Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni. "I think Princeton had some momentum, but that turned it around going into the fourth quarter."

With Cornell ahead 8-6, Myers stopped a tough shot from Rich Sgalardi and then stopped Tommy Davis on the rebound as the third quarter expired. What followed was fairly amazing.

Cornell won the face-off to start the fourth quarter and then had the ball for 6:33 before Max Siebald scored on the Big Red's 10th shot of the possession. Yes, 10th. Princeton goalie Tyler Fiorito made four tough saves during that stretch, but Siebald finally got one past him to make it 9-6. Cornell then won the next face-off but turned it over, starting a Princeton break the other way. The Tigers never got settled offensively, though, as George Calvert forced a turnover to get it back.

Cornell then scored an extra-man goal a little more than a minute later to make it 10-6. Cornell again won the face-off, and the Big Red would possess the ball until a turnover with 1:26 to go. Princeotn would finally get the ball across midfield with 1:15 left, and Jack McBride ripped a shot home with 1:09 to play.

Those six seconds would be the total of Princeton's possession time in its offensive end for the entire fourth quarter.

"We never had the ball," Princeton coach Bill Tierney said. "You can't win lacrosse games if you never have the ball."

Cornell won 14 of 19 face-offs as Princeton tried Paul Barnes and then longsticks John Cunningham (who returned to the lineup after missing six games with a broken jaw) and Jonathan Meyers. The wins led Cornell to have possession probably around 80% of the game.

The face-off dominance led to a 30-11 edge for Cornell in ground balls. The total for Princeton was the lowest ever in a game by a Bill Tierney-coached Tiger team.

Cornell scored three times in the first 4:46, but Princeton would get to within one at 5-4 when Chris McBride scored with 2:42 left in the first half. Mark Kovler scored twice during that run, while Josh Lesko also had one unsettled goal that started when goalie Fiorito ran it all the way into the box and got it to Tommy Davis, who fed the open Lesko on the crease.

Perhaps the key play of the first three quarters came as time was expiring in the first half, when Scott MacKenzie was called for a push on a Cornell clear. That gave the Big Red a 30-second extra-man opportunity to start the third quarter, and a goal by Ryan Hurley after the EMO ended  but on that possession made it 6-4. It became 7-4 when another penalty was called against Princeton on the next face-off, and Jonathan Thomson scored an extra-man goal for Cornell.

Even then Princeton came back, as Kovler scored his third to make it 7-5 and Greg Seaman again made it a one-goal game with 8:43 left in the third. Princeton had one shot to tie it, but Sgalardi was stopped by Myers with 7:33 left in the quarter. George Calvert scored with 6:14 left to make it 8-6 and set up Myers' saves and the wild fourth quarter.

Princeton and Brown now have one Ivy League loss each, while Cornell is undefeated. The Big Red play at Brown next Saturday, while Princeton plays home against Dartmouth and Brown the next two weekends. A year ago, Princeton defeated Cornell but then lost to Dartmouth and Brown to fall out of the NCAA tournament.

The Tigers cannot get the Ivy League's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, though the Tigers, with three Top 10 wins and five Top 20 wins are a strong candidate for an at-large bid. Either Cornell or Brown will win the automatic bid, and there is no longer the chance of a three-way tie for the title, though either Princeton or Brown can still tie Cornell, depending on what happens.

Princeton's previous three losses as the No. 1 team came against Brown in 1994 and Virginia in 1996 and 1998. Princeton came back to the win the NCAA title all three times, beating Brown in 1994 and Virginia in 1996 in the Final Four along the way.