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Men's lacrosse's first-half struggles are concern vs. potent Crimson

Is the glass half empty or half full?

Is the men's lacrosse team the squad that has struggled through the first halves of its last three games? Or is it the one that has put away each of those contests in the third quarter?


No one knows – including head coach Bill Tierney.

"I just don't think we've hit full stride yet," Tierney said.

Neither do his players.

"I don't know what it is," senior midfielder Mark Whaling said. "I can't put my finger on it."

When No. 2 Princeton (5-1 overall, 2-0 Ivy League) travels to Cambridge, Mass., to face No. 18 Harvard (6-2, 3-0) tomorrow, it better figure it out. The contest pits the only two teams that boast undefeated league marks, with the inside track for the automatic Ivy bid to the NCAA tournament at stake.

Tough starts

Despite a 5-1 overall record and a No. 2 national ranking, the Tigers have come out of the blocks slowly in their last three matches, outscoring their opponents by only a 19-14 margin. This may not sound like shabby play, but consider their opponents: Brown, Yale and Penn State.


Brown is a 1-7 squad, while Yale patrols the cellar in the Ivies. The Nittany Lions have failed to live up to preseason expectations with a mediocre 4-3 record.

Princeton rebounded to win all three of those contests on the strength of a 14-0 third-quarter advantage. During those stretches, the Tigers looked more like last year's Princeton team, the one that often scored 19 goals against its lesser opponents.

Princeton may very well need a 19-goal output tomorrow when it faces one of the highest scoring teams in the nation in the Crimson. Harvard is averaging over 14 goals per game and exploded for 24 against Vermont April 1. Princeton has topped the Crimson's average in only three of its five wins this year and has yet to reach the 19-goal cutoff that Tierney imposes in blowouts.


Spearheading the dynamic Harvard offense is attackman Mike Ferruci, whose 5.13 points per game tie him for third nationally. Indeed, Ferruci's 41 points place him well ahead of all three members of the Tiger's celebrated senior attack trio – Jon Hess, Jesse Hubbard and Chris Massey.

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Perhaps what makes Ferruci most dangerous is his balanced play. Unlike many collegiate players, he can both score (26 goals) and pass (15 assists) quite well.

The Crimson offense, however, is not a one-man show. Attackman Jim Bevilacqua beats goaltenders nearly three times a game. The team plays a fluid, playground style of offense that can prove hard to defend.

"They play a club offense like Syracuse does," Tierney said. "They have some set plays, but mostly they're just playing."

For Princeton to win, its close defense of senior Christian Cook and juniors John Harrington and Kurt Lunkenheimer must limit Ferruci's opportunities early, particularly if the offense struggles on the unfamiliar grass field. He is not the entire Harvard offense, but he is its focal point, both as a feeder and scorer. If the senior attackman can get going offensively during the first quarter on his home turf, the Tigers might be in for a shootout.

Tough Task

Shutting down Ferruci may be difficult, as he is coming off a 7-point (4 goals, 3 assists) performance Wednesday against Brown. As a team, the Crimson put 13 balls in the Bear's net, while Princeton only managed to tally nine Saturday in Providence.

While a loss tomorrow would probably not eliminate Princeton from the NCAA tournament contention, it probably would deprive it of an Ivy title and a first-round bye.