Tuesday, May 26, 2009

We're No. 3

Kenny Nims made one of the greatest clutch plays in the history of NCAA championship games in any sport. Then he scored the tying goal.

For those who saw the men's lacrosse championship game Monday afternoon, it was Nims, the Syracuse first-team All-America attackman, who stripped Cornell's first-team All-America defenseman Matt Moyer as Moyer tried to clear as time was winding down and Cornell was up by one. And by winding down, we're talking the final 15 seconds or so.

Had Moyer gotten the ball across midfield, Syracuse would have had no shot at winning and Cornell would have won the NCAA title. Instead, Nims checked the ball away from Moyer from behind, starting a series of unreal events that led to the tying goal about eight seconds later, with 4.5 seconds remaining.

First, the ball stayed on the Cornell end of the field. Had it rolled across midfield, then the Syracuse attackmen would not have been able to go get it. Instead, Stephen Keough got the ball and flung it over his head toward the goal, where he miraculously hit Matt Abbott in stride. Abbott then had to fight off two Cornell players just to send it goalward, where it skipped off Roy Lang's stick right to Nims, who tucked it under Jake Myers into the net to make it 9-9.

Cornell got possession to start the overtime, but a turnover caused by Sid Smith started the Orange to the tying goal.

It's easy now to say Moyer should have thrown the ball upfield or even out-of-bounds and let his team set up its defense, but given the heat of that moment, no second-guessing is allowed. In fact, as TigerBlog has said in the past many times, the difference between playing on the biggest stage in lacrosse (nearly 42,000 people in an NFL stadium) versus a regular game at any Division I venue (even the Carrier Dome) is extraordinary. Major college basketball or football players are used to playing in front of giant crowds; major college lacrosse players are not. For them to be able to execute normally in that situation has always been amazing.

TigerBlog (who spent the weekend working with fellow Princetonians as the official scorer for the championships) has been at enough NCAA championship games that have gone overtime to know how crushing it is for the teams that lose (something Princeton has never done, as the Tigers are 4-0 all time in overtime in NCAA finals). The Cornell players were rightfully crushed by what transpired.

Yesterday's game was the ninth NCAA final to go overtime and the first not won by Princeton since North Carolina beat Virginia 10-9 in 1986. Princeton is the only school to win more than one overtime NCAA final; Maryland, Cornell, Hopkins, Carolina and now Syracuse are the others to do so once.

Syracuse has now won back-to-back titles, making the Orange the first repeat champion since the Tigers won three straight from 1996 through 1998.

As for the 2009 season, Virginia and Duke were top three seeds and Final Four teams, but no case can be made other than the fact that the three best teams were Syracuse, Cornell and Princeton. Had Cornell held on, the order clearly would have been Cornell first and Princeton second.

Unfortunately for Princeton, the NCAA selection criteria is such that the Tigers ended up seeded fourth and Cornell seeded fifth, and only one could get to the Final Four. Princeton, still, finished 13-3 and owned a regular-season win over the eventual NCAA champion.

So, the Tigers end up No. 3. Even if didn't do them much good as the Final Four weekend went on without them.

It was a weekend that saw two blowouts Saturday in the semifinals and then not much drama in Division III and Division II on Sunday and for the first 56 minutes Monday. The end more than made up for it.

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