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Penn men's lacrosse played Princeton in the Ivy League Championship on May 5.

Credit: Samantha Turner

Heartbreak in Ithaca.

On Sunday, Penn men's lacrosse (9-6, 4-2 Ivy) faced off against Princeton (11-4, 4-2) in the Ivy League Championship. But Penn could not find an answer to big runs by Princeton and fell 18-11, missing out on the opportunity to win the conference tournament and secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Princeton came out of the gate firing, finding the back of the net less than two minutes into the game. And they would do so again and again, taking an early 3-0 lead. Penn didn’t score until six minutes left in the quarter thanks to senior attacker Cam Rubin. Rubin’s goal got Penn going, with sophomore midfielder Griffin Scane then beating three defenders and junior attacker Tynan Walsh striking to score two goals in 27 seconds.

With those three goals, Penn entered the second quarter with hope after cutting the deficit to 4-3. But in the second quarter, everything started going the Tigers' way.

Princeton beat Penn in almost every column of the box score in that first half. They led the Quakers in ground balls 21-13 and faceoffs 10-7, reducing the Quakers’ chances for crucial second chance possessions and offensive opportunities. The Quakers were also unable to take care of the ball, turning it over six times. It spelled disaster for Penn, who trailed by as many as four goals in the second quarter.

On top of all this, coach Mike Murphy was called for unsportsmanlike conduct early in the second quarter. It turned into a minute-long man-up opportunity for Princeton, which they capitalized on. While junior attacker Ben Smith served the time, Princeton scored twice within the man-up possession that gave themselves a 6-3 lead.

The teams traded goals as the quarter continued, but Penn trailed for much of the period. The momentum finally turned Penn’s way with two minutes left in the half. They went on a 3-0 scoring run, with Rubin nailing two of those goals to secure himself a hat trick. Smith also found the back of the net after Walsh secured the ball for a second chance opportunity.

Penn entered the second half with all the hope for a comeback now down only 8-7. But Princeton killed that hope very early on.

The Tigers had their own 3-0 stretch to open the half to go up 7-11, matching their previous four-goal lead. And while Smith interrupted the scoring run, Penn made another costly mistake: senior defender Brendan Lavelle was called for cross-checking, which became another one-minute man-up opportunity. And once again, Princeton made the most of it and scored their third man-up goal of the game to make the lead 12-8.

Penn didn’t go down without a fight, though. During the third quarter, they successfully killed their first man-up opportunity of the day. Smith scored two more goals in that quarter, intercepting a pass from senior Princeton goalie Michael Gianforcaro to score an empty net goal and getting an easy shot off a cut across the middle of the field; Smith finished with four goals on the day. Then, Scane made his man fall to score and cut the lead to 12-10, once again igniting hope for comeback on the championship stage.

But again, Princeton had an answer: The Tigers opened a 3-1 scoring run, including two goals scored in the final 13 seconds of the game, to take an 15-11 lead going into the fourth.

In the fourth quarter, the Quakers’ defensive physicality once again cost them. The defensive unit played a tightly-packed and ferocious attack on every possession, which they had been doing all season but especially this game. But this time, Scane was called for a cross-check to the neck of a Princeton player, turning into a two-minute man-up opportunity and another goal for Princeton to make it 11-16. Princeton scored twice more to blow open the lead to 11-18, punching in their ticket for the big dance in the NCAA Tournament.

Senior goalie Emmet Carroll, who came into the game top three in the nation in both save percentage and saves per game, had 20 saves on the day, but it was not enough against a Princeton team who had 38 shots on goal.

The defeat marks the second straight season in which Penn has fallen to Princeton in the conference tournament. In 2023, the Red and Blue fell to the Tigers 9-8 in the Ivy semifinals and ultimately missed out on the NCAA tournament.

This season's Quakers still have a chance at the tournament, but their fate lies in the hands of the NCAA Selection Committee. The selection show will take place tonight at 9:30pm ET, where Penn will find out if their season lives on.