Princeton Spoils Tierney’s Return in Wild, 14-13 upset over Denver

DU coach Bill Tierney (left) congratulates Princeton coach Matt Madalon after the wild 14-13 Princeton upset over Denver: Photo: Princeton University/Shelly Szwast

It was supposed to be a special homecoming to Princeton, New Jersey for DU lacrosse coaching legend Bill Tierney, but the Princeton Tigers had other ideas, winning a wild and emotional game full of scoring and lightning-fast counter punches over #8th ranked Denver, 14-13.

Tierney, who spent 22 years coaching the PrincetonTigers to six national titles before jumping to coach Denver in 2009, had to be excited to bring his DU Pioneers to Princeton for the first time ever, gunning for his 400th career win on national TV. Tierney returned to his coaching roots at Sherrerd Field Tuesday afternoon with admittedly mixed emotions, and the significance of the game could be heard in a pregame interview as Tierney’s voice cracked with emotion as he reminisced about his Princeton past. The interview was less about his six national championships and more about the people he met along the way.

But Tigers were waiting for him.

And they were emotionally jacked-up, too.

“It was incredible to have Coach T come back Princeton,” said Princeton head coach Matt Madalon after the game. “A lot of the reason we’re here is because of what he was able to do here, and we’re forever grateful for what he has meant for Princeton lacrosse. But for us it was about our team, playing 60 good minutes and getting back in the win column.”

Princeton, just 2-5 coming into the game and unranked, came out with an inspired (and potent) offensive attack that hung 14 goals on DU’s nation’s leading defense, twice the average number of goals DU had given up per game this season.

DU had few defensive answers to shut down shifty Princeton attack man Michael Sowers, who had three goals and three assists to pace the Tigers.

Nevertheless, the Pioneers (5-3) still had the chance to tie the game late in the fourth period. DU was down 14-11 with 1:04 remaining when Austin French scored to bring DU within two goals, and with just 16 seconds to go, Ellis Geis scored to bring the Pioneers within one goal. Denver then won the ensuing faceoff and called a timeout with 3.3 seconds left to set up a potential game-tying play, but Princeton blocked the throw-in as time expired for the Princeton victory.

Denver led in nearly every statistical category except turnovers, 16-11, and that just may have been the difference a tightly-fought contest.

In the first 30 minutes, DU was fortunate to hold the Tigers to a 7-7 draw at the break.

The second half started as a defensive battle but the Tigers finally got on the board but a quick strike counter by DU’s Danny Logan drew the score even, 8-8, at 8:59 of the 3rd. Princeton took the lead again at 5:20, 9-8, on a fast break goal but DU punched back 15 seconds later when Danny Logan rifled a shot from outside, 9-9. On a Pioneer tripping penalty, Princeton scored to take the lead, 10-9, at 2:15 of the 3rd period. But again, a quick strike counter by DU’s Austin French 25 second later made it 10-10. Not to be outdone, Princeton countered with 16 seconds left in the frame to make it 11-10.

During fourth period, the  defensive intensity picked up but the Tigers found the back of the net at 9:53 to take a two goal lead. Denver quickly countered at 9:02 on an Ethan Walker blast to draw within one goal, 12-11. Following a Denver turnover, Princeton worked the ball inside at 7:02 for a goal to extend their lead to 13-11. At 3:16 Princeton took their biggest lead, 14-11, and time was running out for a Pioneer comeback. A Matt Neufeldt roughing penalty allowed the Tigers to run clock for a minute but Denver kept the game alive by stopping the Tigers, setting up the final two DU goals by French and Geis.
Senior attackman Austin French (Danville, Calif.) netted his first hat trick of the season and the 10th of his career to lead the Pioneers attack. Freshman Ellis Geis (Tustin, Calif.) also added three points with two goals and a helper. Four Pioneers had multi-goal games as junior Danny Logan (Upper Arlington, Ohio) and classmate Ethan Walker (Peterborough, Ontario) each scored two apiece.

Senior Alex Ready (Lancaster, Pa.) made 11 stops for the Pioneers, his third double-digit save total of the season and the 16th of his career. Logan and redshirt-senior LSM Matt Neufeldt (Naperville, Ill.) each picked up seven ground balls in the contest for the Pioneers. Freshman Brett Boos (Parker, Colo.) went 20-of-31 from the faceoff dot, picking up five grounders.

NOTES: The loss to Princeton will certainly put more NCAA tournament qualification pressure on the Pioneers as they head into conference play next weekend…It’s been a long time on the road for the Pioneers, who have only played road games in the past 34 days. DU faces Georgetown this Saturday in the Big East opener…The University of Denver also honored Tierney’s first national championship by donning “Princeton black’  road uniforms in his honor, supplied by a uniform sponsor run by one of Tierney’s former Princeton players.

DU’S black uniforms

Thanks to Tim Thompson, and DU and Princeton sports information for help on this story.