Syracuse, Princeton deserve to speak last

May 27, 2001|By Mike Preston

PISCATAWAY, N.J. - As much as NCAA men's Division I lacrosse reached a new level of parity this season with Notre Dame and Towson reaching the final four, we all knew it would come down to No. 1 seed Syracuse against No. 2 Princeton in the championship game tomorrow at Rutgers.

That's the way it should be.

Princeton (13-1) has the best coach in Bill Tierney and Syracuse (13-2) has the best athletes. Princeton likes the slow-down offense while the Orangemen prefer to run. Both teams have great defenses, and together they have won eight of the past nine championships.

Since 1992, Princeton is 19-0 against every team it has played in the NCAA tournament except Syracuse, which owns a 4-3 tournament record vs. the Tigers.

It had to work out this way.

Towson tried to be the spoiler of the anticipated Syracuse-Princeton showdown yesterday in a semifinal game. But Princeton attackman Sean Hartofilis scored the game-winning goal with 2 minutes, 2 seconds remaining for the 12-11 victory. Notre Dame received an invitation to the Big Dance, but got waltzed on and out by the Orangemen, 12-5, in the other semifinal.

In both games, Syracuse and Princeton showed why they are a level above the rest of college lacrosse, and Notre Dame and Towson clearly demonstrated why they are at least a year away from winning a national championship.

Tierney-coached teams are a reflection of him, minus his constant whining to officials. He is a technician who emphasizes defense, positioning and patience. In this program, wraparound checks and over-the-shoulder passes are practically forbidden. Princeton never lacks confidence and poise, and the Tigers punish teams who make mistakes.

Ask Towson. Towson was penalized eight times for seven minutes, and it paid for it in the second quarter when Princeton scored five goals, two of them on extra-man opportunities. Princeton has won nine straight postseason games decided by one goal.

Towson isn't in that class yet. Too many times its offense is erratic. Too many times it lets emotions overrule and turn into needless penalties. Instead of complaining so much about officiating yesterday, Seaman should have spent more time in the ears of some of his players and patching up the middle of his defense.

"That certainly was a key for us," said Seaman of the penalties. "You can't be a man down six times in a game like this, and a team like Princeton, without it having an effect on you. The fouls today really killed us."

The Orangemen have an undisciplined style, too, but they have much more depth and athleticism than Towson. When they commit turnovers, it doesn't matter because they have the ability to score goals in bunches.

Syracuse scored four straight goals in the first nine minutes of the game and five straight to open the second for a 9-2 lead. By then, this game was over. The intimidation was in place. The Fat Lady was jamming. All that was left was for the Fighting Irish to mimic the Orangemen.

That was amusing in itself, but Notre Dame should leave the slick stuff to Syracuse.

"You know they can do it and you have to be prepared for it," said Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan. "When I talked about decision-making, it wasn't that we were scared. We saw them make great plays and felt we had to make great plays. You get caught up in that and try to do it yourself. Their quick goals made us make decisions that were out of character."

The Orangemen do that to a lot of teams. They impose their will. They can't do that to Princeton, but Syracuse has way too many weapons for the Tigers in attackmen Mike Powell, Liam Banks and Michael Springer. The way to beat Princeton's defense is to move the ball around, draw double teams and then pass quickly.

Powell is only a freshman, but already a great feeder. He led the Orangemen yesterday in ground balls with 10, and also had a team-high four assists. Springer is a great finisher, pouring in six goals.

Defensively, Syracuse can match Princeton's offense with close defensemen Solomon Bliss, John Glatzel and Billy St. George, and limit shots from Hartofilis and fellow attackmen B. J. Prager and Ryan Boyle. Also, look for the Orangemen to get some isolations on Princeton sophomore defenseman Damien Davis, who had problems against Towson's quicker attackmen.

Another key is that Syracuse needs to be aggressive. Princeton doesn't like a lot of physical contact. The Orangemen have had Princeton's number over the years. And the Tigers would have preferred to see another team in the final. Syracuse beat Princeton, 14-8, on March 24.

But May is the Orangemen's time of year. Former coach Roy Simmons Jr., who led the Orangemen to six national championships before retiring in 1998, is expected to give Syracuse a pre-game speech. The senior class is the last one Simmons recruited.

"They know that this is their time of year, that they are supposed to win," Seaman said. "That kind of confidence is good for at least three or four goals a game this time of year."

True, which is about how many goals the Orangemen should beat Princeton by tomorrow.

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