Sunday surprises shake up NCAA men's lacrosse tournament


Army, Notre Dame emerge as unlikely quarterfinalists

May 17, 2010|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

Selection Sunday was followed by Surprise Sunday.

A week after the 16-team field for the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament was revealed, Army and Notre Dame threw the bracket into disarray by bouncing No. 2 seed Syracuse and No. 6 seed Princeton, respectively, from the first round.

On Sunday night, the Black Knights, the Patriot League regular-season and tournament champions, edged the two-time defending national champion Orange, 9-8, in double overtime at the Carrier Dome when sophomore midfielder Devin Lynch converted a centering pass from junior attackman Jeremy Boltus with 5.7 seconds left.

Earlier in the day, the Fighting Irish, whose candidacy for the tournament was questioned after they limped to the postseason with four losses in their last six contests, upended the Tigers, 8-5, at Princeton Stadium.

ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich couldn't leave the monitor as he watched Army's victory from the ESPNU studio in Charlotte, N.C.

"Well, the Army win was the most shocking of the weekend," said Kessenich, a former All-American goalkeeper who helped Johns Hopkins capture the 1987 national title. "The Notre Dame win was a lot more predictable. I thought the Notre Dame game would be a low-scoring, close game that could go either way.

"But Army's win is their first playoff win since 1993, and Syracuse had not lost home games in the playoffs. They were 22-1 [before Sunday]. It was a great performance by Army. They did a lot of things well, and I thought Syracuse kind of lost its composure late in the game. They didn't have an offensive superstar who could will them to win. They played on eggshells late in the game. Give Army credit for really dominating the second half of that game and eventually winning it. Just an awesome day for that program."

Sunday marked only the third time in the history of the NCAA tournament that two unseeded teams defeated seeded teams in the first round. In 1990, Rutgers edged No. 6 seed Virginia, 7-6, and Princeton nipped No. 7 seed Johns Hopkins, 9-8. In 2008, Navy beat No. 4 seed North Carolina, 8-7, and Ohio State dumped No. 8 seed Cornell, 15-7.

Syracuse (13-2), which has won 11 national championships and was attempting to join the 1978-1980 Johns Hopkins teams, the 1988-1990 Syracuse teams and the 1996-1998 Princeton teams as the only squads to capture three straight national titles, became the fourth reigning champion to fall in the first round.

In 1999, defending champion Princeton lost to Syracuse, 7-5; in 2005, Syracuse was edged by Massachusetts, 16-15; and in 2007, Virginia fell to Delaware, 14-8.

The Black Knights (11-5) will meet No. 7 seed Cornell (11-5) on Sunday at noon at Stony Brook for a shot at their third Final Four appearance in the program's history (1971, 1984). The Fighting Irish (8-6) will take on No. 3 seed Maryland (12-3) at noon Saturday at Princeton in an attempt to gain their second Final Four berth in school history (2001).

Kessenich said he wouldn't be surprised if Army, which is 5-3 in one-goal decisions this season and 3-2 in overtime, also upset the Big Red, last year's finalists.

"That Cornell game is a pick-'em game," he said. "They played in the regular season, and it was a nail-biter. I see no reason why this game won't be the same type of low-scoring, defensive battle. If it goes into overtime, that certainly favors Army."

New blood?

With Syracuse, Princeton and Johns Hopkins all falling in the first round, the tournament lost three schools that had combined to win 26 of the past 39 national titles.

Four of the eight teams left have won titles: top-seeded Virginia and No. 4 seed North Carolina (four each), Cornell (three) and Maryland (two).

But Kessenich said losses by the Tigers and the Blue Jays (to No. 5 seed Duke) weren't terribly shocking.

"The only one that surprised me was the Syracuse loss," he said. "Hopkins, that was not a good matchup for them, and Princeton has not been playing particularly well lately. Even though they won the Ivy League tournament and the AQ [automatic qualifier], I didn't like what I was seeing from them late in the year."

Et cetera

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