Monday, March 5, 2018

Windy And Wild

As extraordinary weekends go, it's hard to beat this past one, and not just because the winds around here threatened to blow Mercer County into Monmouth County and Monmouth County into the Atlantic Ocean.

The storm that came through here wasn't remarkable because of the amount of snow (not a lot) or rain (annoying but dealable, if that is a word, which it isn't) but for the wind, which was incredible and long-lasting.

If you've ever driven down I-95 from Princeton to Baltimore, you know of the Millard Tydings Bridge, which crosses the Susquehanna River and connects Cecil County and Harford County in Maryland. The winds were so bad Friday that the bridge was closed, which turned the trip for the men's lacrosse bus from Princeton to Johns Hopkins from its usual two-plus hours into a nightmarish 6:30.

And that was nothing compared to what happened to Georgetown's men's lacrosse team, who apparently was on its bus for nearly 24 hours in an attempt to get to Hofstra, only to not get anywhere near Hempstead and have to turn around.

Millard Tydings, by the way, was a longtime U.S. Senator from Maryland whose granddaughter Eleanor played lacrosse at Princeton.

Anyway, that's not the extraordinary stuff that TigerBlog meant earlier.

He's talking about Princeton basketball.

Princeton's women's team went into the weekend needing one win (or Penn loss) to clinch at least a share of the Ivy League title and the top seed in the upcoming Ivy League tournament. With a combination of two Princeton wins or Penn losses, the Tigers would get the outright Ivy title.

The drama about getting a share of the championship and the top seed vanished relatively quickly, as Princeton built a 16-point lead at the end of the first quarter Friday night against Brown. The Tigers were never really threatened from there, en route to a 79-44 win.

In the end, it was a night for history at Jadwin Gym, and not just because Princeton won another Ivy title. If you're keeping scoring, that's six under Courtney Banghart.

The real history came from Leslie Robinson, who finished with 10 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, giving her a triple double. A rare triple double. Probably an unprecedented triple double.

A triple double, by the way, is when a player has double figures in three statistical categories in the same game. TigerBlog has researched the men's side, and no men's player has ever had one - though assists weren't kept as a stat until after Bill Bradley played.

As for the women, there's nothing to suggest that this wasn't the first triple double in Princeton history. In fact, it is believed to be the second in Ivy history along with one by Carla Kelly of Cornell back in 1988. If further investigating reveals otherwise, then TB will issue a correction here.

Triple double aside, Robinson's passing has been extraordinary this season. She is part of a lineup that is deep and balanced as it heads into the Ivy tournament.

Not that it'll be an easy trip to the Palestra this coming weekend. First up, Saturday at 6, will be Yale, a team that has already beaten Princeton by double digits this year. The winner of that game gets either Harvard, the other team to have defeated Princeton in the league, or Penn, the host team and defending Ivy tournament champ.

While Robinson was putting up her historic numbers, the men's team was going through something extraordinary as well.

When the weekend started, the men needed five outcomes to get them into the Ivy tournament - wins at Brown and Yale, a Cornell loss to Harvard and Columbia losses to Dartmouth and Harvard.

TigerBlog kept checking his phone for updates as he watched the women's game and then the men's hockey ECAC opening round game. The men's hockey team, by the way, would outscore Brown 15-3 in the two-game sweep.

It became clear quickly that Princeton was going to beat Brown. It seemed to be clear that Columbia was going to lose to Dartmouth, since the Big Green were up by about 15 or so every time TB looked. It also was clear that Harvard-Cornell would be close.

The next thing TB knew, Dartmouth had beaten Columbia by two. Close, yes, but it was what Princeton needed.

With the win over Brown completed and the Columbia loss, Princeton now needed Harvard to beat Cornell. This put Princeton fans everywhere in the really, really weird position of rooting for Harvard to knock off Brian Earl, the former Princeton great who is now the head coach at Cornell.

Harvard would eventually do so, even if it took two overtimes. The entire time, every Princeton fan had to be thinking like TB: "Sorry Brian. Sorry Brian. Sorry Brian."

And so that brought about Saturday night. Now Princeton needed a Yale win and a Columbia loss to Harvard, something that seemed pretty likely, given that the Crimson were playing for the top seed and a share of the championship. That game was never a total blowout, but Harvard was in control start to finish.

By that time, Cornell had finished off Dartmouth, and that meant the Ivy tournament was down to this: Harvard the top seed, Penn (the co-champ) the second seed, Yale the third seed and then either Princeton (with a win at Yale) or Cornell (with a Yale win over Princeton) as the fourth seed.

The men's lacrosse game at Johns Hopkins was wrapping up at the same time, and so TB was trying to follow hoops on his phone. He saw Princeton was behind pretty much the whole way, but when he checked it one last time, he saw that the Tigers had forced OT. The wild weekend continued.

In the end, Yale made the backbreaking three to snap a tie in that OT, and Princeton would eventually fall just short. The Tigers' absence sends Brian Earl and his Big Red to Philadelphia instead.
For Princeton, it's a disappointing end to a season that had some great moments, one year after the Tigers went 16-0 to win the regular season and first tournament. Those kinds of seasons don't happen every day, as it were.

For Brian Earl, it's a remarkable coaching achievement in Year 2 in Ithaca. No, his team didn't win the league or even reach .500 in the league, but getting the Big Red into the tournament warrants Ivy Coach of the Year honors in TB's eyes.

And now Princeton fans are free to root for him guilt-free next weekend.

TigerBlog certainly will be.

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