Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense. For much of the Boston University men’s lacrosse team’s matchup with Princeton University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers (10-4) dominated possession and employed an unrelenting ride.
BU, back on its heels, struggled to take control of the ball — let alone generate enough scoring chances to remain competitive with the potent Princeton attack.
The Tigers never trailed, coming away with a dominant 12-5 win over the Terriers at Sherrerd Field in Princeton, New Jersey.
“They were obviously really aggressive pressing out, and we didn’t handle it to the best of our ability,” BU head coach Ryan Polley said postgame.
BU struggled to clear the ball and retain possession against Princeton’s ride from the outset. On the offensive end, Princeton got into its half-field sets and peppered BU senior goalkeeper Matt Garber with quality shots. Meanwhile, the Terriers were completely shut down in the few offensive opportunities they could find.
The Tigers held a 4-0 lead after the first quarter.
BU finally found the back of the net in the second quarter, when sophomore attack Tommy Bourque ripped one past Princeton goalkeeper Erik Peters.
But each time the Terriers seemed to gain momentum, the Tigers quickly responded with a spirited counter. Bourque’s tally was followed by two Princeton goals which were scored just six seconds apart.
Sophomore attack Christian Quadrino tacked on a second BU goal before halftime to cut Princeton’s lead to 6-2.
The Tigers, playing with the lead, locked things down on the defensive end. BU spent more time on the offensive side of the field, but Princeton’s unflappable defense shut the Terriers down time and time again.
BU faced a 9-3 deficit heading into the final frame after the Tigers outscored BU 3-1 in the third quarter.
The Terriers put up a solid effort in the final quarter, cutting the Princeton lead to five at one point. But it wasn’t enough. The Tigers walked away with a 12-5 win, and a berth into the second round of the tournament.
Bourque put up an impressive offensive performance for the Terriers with three goals and seven shots on goal to lead the team.
But despite Bourque’s success, the Princeton defense shut down the key goal-scorers of BU’s explosive offense — junior attackmen Vince D’Alto and Louis Perfetto as well as senior attack Timmy Ley were all held pointless. Polley called BU’s offensive attack “out of character.”
“I think [Princeton] is really good and they’ve got a great defense. They’re super athletic,” Polley said. “Most of the time, they left [D’Alto, Perfetto and Ley] out on an island and said ‘We’re going to win our one-on-one matchup,’ and we were unable to win our matchups.”
Princeton, on the other hand, had three different players record a hat-trick — junior attack Alex Slusher, junior attack Christian Ronda and junior midfield Sam English.
The Tigers also dominated at the “X,” winning 16 of the 20 faceoffs in the game. BU faceoff specialist Conor Calderone, one of the best at his position in the country, was just 4-for-16 on faceoffs. As a result, Princeton was almost always able to control possession of the ball at the beginning of quarters and after goals.
The two teams faced off earlier this season at Sherrerd Field, where Princeton earned a 12-7 victory.
BU’s seven-goal performance in that game was a season low before scoring only five on Saturday.
The game marked BU’s first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament — the Terriers earned an automatic bid into the field after winning their first Patriot League title last Sunday.
“We’ve never been here, so nerves are high,” Polley said. “When you’re looking up at 4-0, it makes it a little more challenging.”