Friday, February 7, 2014

Home, Finally

It's possible that the best collegiate men's lacrosse game of the 2014 season has been played before the Princeton men's basketball team has played an Ivy League home game.

Think about how nuts that is.

Last night in Charlottesville, Loyola and Virginia played what very well may end up being the game of the year in college lacrosse. Tonight at Jadwin Gym, Princeton plays its first home league game.

TigerBlog doesn't even have to look it up. He's not even going to bother. He knows that Princeton has to be the last team in Division I to play a league home game.

Let's go back to last night first, though.

Virginia missed the NCAA tournament a year ago and is looking to bounce back. Loyola won the NCAA title two years ago and lost in the opening round of the tournament last year.

UVa led 12-4 at the end of the third quarter, only to see Loyola go on an epic run. Every time TB checked the score on Twitter, Loyola had scored again. It got to 12-8, 12-10, 12-11 and then finally 12-12.

And then, with 17 seconds left, Loyola went ahead, 13-12. Game ends on a 9-0 fourth quarter run, right?


Virginia won the face-off, and just when it looked like the Cavs weren't going to get a shot off, Ryan Tucker buried one from the outside. The refs got together and ruled that it counted - they even put one-tenth of a second back on the clock.

As an aside, there was no instant replay in the game, so the refs had to make their best decision. It's possible that the shot didn't cross the goal line (not leave Tucker's stick) before all zeroes on the clock and that Loyola got robbed, but hey, isn't it wonderful not to have replay and as a result force good, decisive officiating?

Now even at 13-13, the game went to overtime, where UVa won it, this time on a goal by James Pannell, the younger brother of the former Cornell player. It was a great comeback.

It's hard to imagine a better game than that. Maybe there will be one.

Of course, this game could have huge implications come NCAA selection time. Loyola is the favorite in the Patriot League and figures to be a quality win at the end of the year, maybe top 10 or even top 5. When the selections are made, it'll be that "Virginia has a win over Loyola," not "Virginia has a win over Loyola at home in overtime on Feb. 6."

TB can't believe Princeton lacrosse starts in two weeks. Maybe it's because the weather has been so awful. It's even nuttier that Division I lacrosse games have already been played, beginning with the two last weekend.

The temperature at face-off in Charlottesville last night was 36 degrees. It got colder as the game went on. That is weather that suggests inside games, not outside ones.

Oh well. That's the new calendar in lacrosse. Outdoors in February.

As for Princeton men's basketball, the Tigers will be indoors tonight against Columbia (7) and tomorrow night against Cornell (6). As the most casual Princeton men's basketball fan knows, the Ivy season hasn't gotten off to a great start for the Tigers.

Princeton looked great for much of its pre-league schedule, including an amazing comeback win against Penn State during an eight-game winning streak. The Tigers were 11-2 heading into the Ivy opener against Penn, at the Palestra, against a Penn team that had been struggling mightily.

So what happened?

Princeton got off to a bad start in that one. Penn played way better than it has at any point of this season and built a big lead. Princeton made a run. Penn held the Tigers off at the end.

And just like that, 11-2 became 0-1. For three weeks, as the Tigers had to sit on that loss through first semester exams and then the Division III win over Kean.

That set up a huge game last Friday night at Harvard, the prohibitive Ivy favorite. This was supposed to be a matchup of the top two teams in the league, the ones who had generated talk of two Ivy NCAA tournament bids back in December.

The problem for Princeton is that when Harvard held on 82-76, the Tigers were now 2.5 games back of the Crimson. And that became 3.5 the next night, when Princeton fell at Dartmouth.

It's all very understandable. The loss to Penn dug an early hole. The game against Harvard was a chance to get out of it. The game against Dartmouth was 22 hours later.

The schedule didn't do Princeton any favors, with a return from exam break at Harvard. And no home league games until the second weekend of February.

So now what for Princeton?

There is still a lot for the Tigers in 2014. There's a chance to win as many games as possible. A chance to get on another roll. A chance to beat Harvard in the rematch.

Maybe it's too much to ask for Harvard to lose three of its final 10 league games, but hey, if the Crimson go 11-3, the Tigers would be kicking themselves if they weren't also 11-3.

And if the Ivy championship might be far-fetched, there's still second place and a possible NIT berth, which would mean quality postseason games in March.

And if nothing else, there's pride.

Princeton is way better than an 0-3 team in the league, and everyone affiliated with the program knows it. Maybe confidence is down a bit right now, but this is a very good team.

TB would be stunned if the Tigers didn't play really hard this weekend as they try to turn their season back around. Hey, they still have seven home league games to go.

The best lacrosse game of 2014 might already have been played, but it doesn't mean that basketball season is anywhere near over.

No comments: