Spectators at recent men's lacrosse games have gotten double their money's worth. For the price of one ticket, they have been able to watch two distinctly different Princeton squads.
But if it were up to the Tigers and their fans, there would be no more "two for the price of one" deals. They only want one Princeton team to show up – the Princeton team of the second half.
Saturday, for the third week in a row, the No. 3 Tigers played neck-and-neck with a lesser opponent in the first half before decisively taking the game in the second half. This time the opponent was Brown (1-6 overall, 1-1 Ivy League), which Princeton (5-1, 2-0) defeated, 9-6, behind a strong second-half defensive effort.
In their last three games, the Tigers have outscored Brown, Yale and Penn State by a slim 19-14 margin in the opening half. But in the second halves of those games, the Tigers waxed their weaker foes by a combined 19-2 margin, including a 13-0 third quarter advantage.
Saturday Princeton held the Bears scoreless in the second half while scoring two goals of its own to secure the victory. After giving up several early goals, the Tiger defense, headed by junior goalie Corey Popham, played superbly in the second half.
"(Saturday) I think it was really a matter of pride," head coach Bill Tierney said. "We felt we had played terribly in the first half."
Indeed, the Princeton team of the first half looked more like an Ivy also-ran than the two-time defending national champion.
The Tigers could not match Brown's emotion in the early going as the Bears jumped out to a 3-0 lead behind two goals from attackman Rob Lyle. Tierney called a timeout after the third Brown goal five minutes, two seconds into the game, desperately trying to fire up his troops.
Princeton responded to Tierney's call 30 seconds later when senior attackman Chris Massey found the back of the net after receiving a pass from sophomore midfielder Josh Sims.
After a goal by senior midfielder Mark Whaling and another score by Massey, the first quarter ended with the game tied and the Tigers apparently in control. But Brown dominated the opening minutes of the second quarter, scoring twice and goading Princeton into committing fouls.
The Tigers finally turned the game in their favor with a late second-quarter comeback sparked by the same man who blew the game open in the previous weekend's 16-5 defeat of Yale – Sims.
"Josh's goals were huge," senior defenseman Christian Cook said. "He's turning into a tremendous leader for this team."
All tied up
Sims assisted on a goal by junior midfielder Lorne Smith to tie the game at five with 6:01 left in the half. After another Brown goal, Sims – while receiving a vicious check – fired a shot past Brown goalie Strider Dickson to again tie the game.
Finally, with a little over a minute left in the half, Sims put the Tigers ahead for good. The defense took over from there.
"Your offense can sometimes come and go, but your defense has to be there every game," Tierney said. "I thought our defense was very, very good."
Princeton's relatively poor firsthalf showings have mystified both players and coaches. Part of the problem may be that the Tigers cannot consistently match the emotion brought to the game by Princeton's upset-hungry opponents.
"(Our opponents) have nothing to lose," Tierney said. "It's almost like it takes our guys getting smacked in the face a little bit before they understand these teams are out to get us."
Although first-half struggles continue to haunt Princeton, Tiger fans can look to impressive second-half performances for solace. As long as the dominant Princeton team of the second half continues to show up, getting two for the price of one isn't such a bad deal.