Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Question No. 3.2.0

TigerBlog has been fortunate in that his team's have won so much more than they've lost in the 30 years he's been covering Princeton sports.

It goes way beyond that, of course.

TigerBlog has been a part of NCAA championships, Ivy League championships, individual championships of all sorts. He always says he's had way more than his share of big victories, so he can't really complain much about losses.

He's also not taking credit for the wins, obviously. 

That's not to say that he doesn't. Or that certain losses have stung more than others.

So today is Day 3 of a week of TB's memories, inspired by a comment last month asking about very specific games, emotions and such. Today's question is:

What is the saddest or most bitter you've been due to Princeton sports?

Sad and bitter? Those are pretty intense emotions.

This isn't the same as being disappointed that Princeton lost. There have been a lot of those games, where Princeton lost and it's been a disappointment.

As TB said above, he's lucky that the wins have far outweighed the losses.

When he thinks of games that have disappointed him, he usually comes back to ones where he felt like Princeton might have been the better team but didn't play well or dug itself too big an early hole and couldn't climb out.

There have been a lot of the first kind. Well, not a ton. But enough.

You want an example of the second? The 2002 NCAA men's lacrosse championship game, where Princeton lost to Syracuse 13-12 after falling behind big early. Syracuse was probably the better team that year, but Princeton could have won had it not started out so slowly.

But that didn't make him bitter. Just disappointed.

So do most losses. Even the ones that really sting. They don't really lead to bitterness.

That's why this is such a good question. It's digging much deeper.

Bitterness. Hmmm.

His first thought about this one left him with two games. Both were men's basketball games. Both were in the NCAA tournament.

Is he missing any other obvious ones? Football? Maybe the 1993 game at Penn, a 30-14 loss in a game in which the Tigers never really could get themselves going. As TB thinks about it more, that was more of the first kind he mentioned before.

Lacrosse? Maybe the 2009 NCAA quarterfinal loss to Cornell in a 6-4 defensive battle. But again, that wasn't really bitterness. That was the third kind of tough loss, the one where there are two pretty even teams and one had to win - and it turned out not to be Princeton.

It was also Bill Tierney's last game as Princeton head coach, something TB didn't realize at the time. Maybe if he had he would have been more bitter about it. 

No, for actual bitterness, he'll have to go with those two men's basketball games.

One was in the opening round of the 1991 tournament, at Syracuse against Villanova. Princeton lost that one 50-48 as Lance Miller hit a floater in the lane with two seconds left.

TigerBlog was still in the newspaper business then. In fact, he was in the Carrier Dome football press box, not courtside, as Miller hit his floater, because he needed to be near a phone to be able to send his story to the paper the second the game ended as deadline approached.

You can imagine how far away he was. And he was bitter. Even if he didn't at Princeton yet, he really wanted to win that one, mostly because he wanted Kit Mueller to get an NCAA tournament win.

Mueller, by the way, played 40 minutes in that game and had 14 points and eight assists without a turnover.

Then there was the 1998 second round loss to Michigan State. This had elements of the second kind of loss, since Princeton fell behind 10-0 to the Spartans.

Princeton came all the way back to tie it on a long two-pointer by James Mastaglio late, but Mateen Cleaves came back and drilled a three to put the Spartans ahead for good. The final was 63-56.

TB remembers sitting with Steve Goodrich in the interview area waiting for Michigan State to get finished and being able to hear what the Spartan players were saying. They were being super complimentary, and each time they said something nice, TB and Goodrich both said "grrrrrr" somewhat audibly.

That year, of course, was when Princeton went 27-2. TB really, really wanted that team to get to the Sweet 16, which would have meant a game against North Carolina (the only team to beat Princeton during the regular season) at Kentucky.

All these years later, TB can still see Miller's floater (from so far away) and Cleaves' three-pointer (he was directly behind the basket at which Cleaves shot), and he still says "grrrr" every time he thinks about it.

Now that's bitterness.

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