Syracuse ends Tigers' reign

Mulligan's 16 saves help halt Princeton's three-year run, 7-5

May 16, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A teary-eyed Kurt Lunkenheimer buried his face into his hands. His Princeton teammates filed off the Brown Stadium field in a somber, silent procession.

But the result spoke volumes: Syracuse 7, Princeton 5, ceasing the Tigers' three-year, Division I men's lacrosse national championship reign.

"I had scenes flashing back of all those years of playing tournament games," said Lunkenheimer, a senior close defenseman. "Those were great memories. I was trying to wipe out the ones from today."

Yesterday's memories should be eerily familiar.

Collapsing team defense. Disciplined offense. Clutch goalkeeping.

But this time, Princeton witnessed all of them rather than executing them.

Syracuse, the innovator of run-and-gun, opted for prevent-and-prevail.

Sure, the Orangemen triumphed once again in the playoffs on the strength of an overwhelming run. However, the decisive stretch yesterday was delivered courtesy of the defense.

Syracuse blanked the Tigers for 32: 42 and nearly the entire second half before Lorne Smith's man-up goal with nine seconds remaining saved Princeton from that dreaded distinction. Nevertheless, it proved to be the Orangemen's longest defensive stand this year.

Syracuse (10-4), which lost to Princeton in four overtimes three weeks ago, marches into next Sunday's quarterfinal matchup against top-seeded Loyola looking to extend its string of 16 consecutive Final Fours. Princeton (9-4) had its nine-game win streak stopped, losing for the first time since March 20.

"As much as you want to fight it and say we shot poorly," Princeton coach Bill Tierney said, "you have to give the credit to Syracuse."

The defense provided enough time for Syracuse to crawl out from a 4-3 halftime deficit and score four times over a 16-minute stretch.

Actually, Orangemen goalkeeper Robby Mulligan not only equaled the offense, thwarting away four shots over that same span, but initiated it.

A low save by Mulligan developed into Chris Cordisco's game-tying shot that sailed over Princeton goalkeeper Corey Popham's right shoulder with 9: 27 left in the third quarter.

A high stop by Mulligan two minutes later soon became Liam Banks' eventual game-winning goal. And again, a Mulligan deflection translated into Matt Cutia's behind-the-back score.

Three Mulligan saves along with three goals boosted Syracuse to a 6-4 margin with 2: 49 remaining in the third.

Then, Banks hit Josh Coffman on a backdoor cut just 1: 09 into the final quarter before uncharacteristically slamming on the offensive breaks. Mirroring the patented Princeton stalling tactics, Syracuse fired just one shot the rest of the way, preferring to watch the seconds tick than pad statistics.

"We never panicked," Mulligan said. "We played in control and I thought error-free lacrosse."

"To be honest with you at 7-4, I really can't say that I was worried," Tierney said. "I thought we would break out of it at some point. But we didn't."

The reason? Princeton couldn't break Mulligan.

In his first playoff start, the sophomore finished his 16-save performance with a flourish, turning away 10 shots in the second half.

He stuffed five one-on-one, point-blank attempts as well as saving four man-down shots.

"His play speaks better than I could," said Smith, a Gilman School graduate who played his last collegiate game. "Everyone saw how he was on every shot."

The day closed better than it began for Mulligan. In warm-ups, Mulligan was accidentally hit in the chest by a teammate's shot, causing him to walk over to the side and hit the fence.

"I guess it woke me up," Mulligan said. "I play better when I'm upset."

In the end, the Tigers proved to be the ones upset. They never trailed the entire first half in a game that featured four ties.

Fact is, Princeton usually excels at close games this time of year. The Tigers had won 11 straight tournament games decided by two goals or fewer, dating back to 1991.

They had also won nine playoff contests in a row over the previous three tournaments, hoisting up the 1996, 1997 and 1998 national championship plaques.

But Princeton's chase for an unprecedented fourth straight title vanished in front of a first-round lacrosse record crowd of 5,859 at Brown Stadium.

Still, don't write off the Princeton dynasty just yet.

"We'll be back," Tierney said. "It's just going to have a new century written on it."

Princeton 2 2 0 1 -- 5

Syracuse 2 1 3 1 -- 7

Goals: P--Smith 3, Torti, Prager; S--Banks 2, Caione, Powell, C.Cordisco, Cutia, Coffman. Assists: P--Prager, Mollet; S--Caione, Byrnes, Powell, Banks. Saves: P--Popham 9; S--Mulligan 16.

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