NEW YORK — The last time Penn played Princeton in an Ivy League Tournament semifinal, it was a basketball game held at the Tigers’ home court of Jadwin Gymnasium, where Princeton emerged victorious en route to an Ivy Championship and Sweet 16 berth.
Even though what happened Friday night in Manhattan took place two months later, 50 miles further north, and in a completely different sport, the result was the same — Princeton defeated Penn.
In a showcase of each side’s smothering defense and relentless attack, Penn (7-6, 4-2 Ivy) men’s lacrosse fell to Princeton (7-6, 4-2) 9-8 in the semifinals of the Ivy League Tournament.
“I think this group has been playing with [single-game elimination] pressure for a couple of weeks,” Princeton coach Matt Madalon said. “We didn’t handle our out-of-conference early in the season, so it put a lot of pressure on us to win Ivy League games [and] earn an opportunity to play in this tournament.”
Given that the teams’ meeting in the regular season ended with a 9-8 overtime win in favor of the Quakers, a low-scoring duel like Friday's may have been expected. But it didn’t always seem that way. Penn scored two goals in the first three minutes of the match, including sophomore midfielder Hugh Mullane’s first of the season.
But from there, Penn did not score a goal for the next 22 minutes of game time, during which the Tigers moved into a 3-2 lead. Despite a nonstop battle with plenty of action throughout the first half, the teams retreated to the locker rooms with Princeton holding a slight 4-3 advantage. Sophomore attacker Ben Smith had broken Penn’s cold streak with 5:35 left in the half and the Tigers’ final goal coming with a little more than 90 seconds left before the break.
Much of the credit for this low score can be attributed to a pair of excellent performances by the two goalkeepers: Michael Gianforcaro for Princeton and junior Emmet Carroll for Penn. The two combined for 16 saves in the first half alone, with many more shots deflecting off defenders or missing the net entirely.
“There was a while there in the second and third quarters where [Carroll] really kept us in it,” Penn coach Mike Murphy said. “He was terrific throughout, probably the best player on the field.”
But if the first half was a showcase of defensive lacrosse, the third quarter was an absolute, unmitigated masterclass. For nearly 15 full minutes, the teams traded turnovers and missed shots, with defenders crowding the area near the goal and preventing anything from getting through.
It was only a goal by sophomore attacker Tynan Walsh — which tied the game at four — with 3.7 seconds remaining that prevented the third from becoming the first scoreless quarter for Quaker lacrosse in nearly a decade.
But just as the first three quarters were a display in defense, the fourth featured a surprising amount of offense, as the two teams' offense ramped up to combine for nine goals.
“We really were talking about doing a better job of moving off-ball to create more space for dodgers, which we didn’t do a great job of all night,” Murphy said. “In the fourth quarter we started going at it from behind the goal and [we found] more success that way.”
However, the Tigers then scored three straight goals to lead by two with under six minutes left to play. Penn could not be deterred though, as senior midfielder Sam Handley halved the deficit with four minutes remaining. But just 60 seconds later, the Tigers went back up by two at 9-7.
With just 13.5 seconds left, Smith restored hope into Quaker fans by scoring his third goal of the game. But the Tigers took control of the ensuing faceoff and were able to run out the final seconds of the game to hold on for victory.
With the Tigers' win, the team will face Yale — which toppled No. 1 seed Cornell 22-15 in its respective semifinal matchup — in the Ivy Tournament final, to be held Sunday at noon. The winner of that game will get the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, the Quakers will spend the 45-ish hours between the end of that game and Selection Sunday hoping that results in other games break their way and present them with an at-large bid to the tournament.