Princeton forms `D' around Davis

Bulwark: It's his feel for the game as much as his checks that makes Damien Davis a tough test for Johns Hopkins' attack.

Ncaa Lacrosse Final Four

College Lacrosse

May 23, 2002|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

Onlookers often find the beauty of Damien Davis' game in his wide array of takeaway checks, his galloping runs through midfield and his unrelenting pursuit of ground balls.

But even in lacrosse, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the aspects of Davis' game most pleasing to Princeton coach Bill Tierney are more subtle.

Take Saturday, for example. Davis, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior defender out of Gilman, held Georgetown's Steve Dusseau, the likely winner of college lacrosse's top honor - the Tewaaraton Trophy - to a goal and an assist in Princeton's 14-13 NCAA quarterfinal win.

A conservative Davis relied on his brains and his positioning, often forcing the Hoyas' sniper into the teeth of Princeton's quick-sliding defense.

"He's had other games where he's able to dominate his player, but on Saturday, his job was to stay on Dusseau's hands, stay on his top side and get help if he needed it," Tierney said.

Davis' efforts are a major reason the Tigers will play Johns Hopkins on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. in the first game of the final four at Rutgers Stadium.

A second-team All-American last year, Davis is the pillar of a stingy Tigers defense that has allowed eight goals per game.

Davis has surprised even his coach with his transition from a high-risk, high-reward ballhawk into just another cog in one of the country's most complicated defensive schemes.

"I've never had to reel him in," said Tierney. "I've almost had to rev him up, because he is so under control."

That discipline is just one of the reasons that Tierney thrust Davis into the starting lineup in the defender's first game, matching him up with Johns Hopkins All-American Dan Denihan.

It was a sign of things to come for Davis, who is usually matched against the other team's top attackman. His matchups with former Syracuse star Ryan Powell and his brother, Orangemen sophomore Michael Powell, have been major subplots in the past two final fours.

Last year, in the Tigers' 10-9 overtime win in the title game, Davis was beaten by Michael Powell for the game-tying goal before he stripped Powell of the ball on the sequence that led to Princeton's game-winner.

Said Davis: "You're always looking for that challenge. It was nice to show people what I've got."

Davis has started every game of his Princeton career, but said he still feels he has something to prove. He acknowledges that some in lacrosse think of him more for his overall athletic prowess than for his lacrosse ability.

After all, Davis was a two-time Sun Athlete of the Year, excelling in football, wrestling and lacrosse at Gilman.

But Tierney scoffs at that line of thinking, pointing to Davis' understanding of the game and his superb stick skills. The Cockeysville native has even scored three goals this season.

Then, there is the fact that Davis is an African-American player in a predominantly white sport. "If I keep improving, I think I'll be known more as a good lacrosse player," said Davis.

In the classroom, Davis, a sociology major, has a 2.7 grade-point average. He has an internship with Deutsche Bank this summer and hopes that will lead to a job in investment banking.

But he is far from done learning lessons from Tierney.

With the Tigers up by two late on Saturday, Davis made an upfield run and fired an ill-advised shot that was easily stopped. Georgetown scored on the ensuing possession, and, with Tierney still shaking his fists on the sidelines, the Hoyas would tie the game seconds later.

"That was not a shot I should have taken," said Davis. "If I don't shoot there, we probably don't go through the rest of that. I have to learn from my mistakes."

Davis was bailed out by attackman Ryan Boyle, another Gilman product, who scored with four seconds left as the Tigers moved on with the win.

The reigning national champions started the season ranked No. 1 but were beaten in four of their first six games, including a humbling, 15-13 loss to Yale on May 30 that put the Tigers' NCAA fate in jeopardy.

"It lit a fire under our butts," Davis said.

There were no major personnel or tactical changes, but there was a trip back to what Tierney called Princeton lacrosse camp, where the veteran coach retaught the fundamentals.

Princeton has since won seven straight, including the conference clincher over Brown, 12-10.

The Tigers' third consecutive trip to the final four means that in his college career, Davis has yet to spend a Memorial Day weekend anywhere but on a lacrosse field.

"I've been very spoiled and very lucky," said Davis. "But that's why I came to Princeton. I knew we'd have a great team. I just wanted to be part of it."

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