It was a forgettable season for DU men’s lacrosse (9-6, 4-1 BIG EAST) as they skidded to an unremarkable close Friday afternoon against Villanova in the BIG EAST Tournament semifinals. The 15-14 defeat defied the saying, “objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” The game really wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate as another conference tournament collapse brought DU’s season to an end.
Since the national championship season in 2015, Denver has been bounced out of the conference tournament every season. Marquette eliminated Denver in 2016 and 2017. Georgetown defeated Denver 2018 through 2021, only interrupted by the 2020 COVID shortened season. Now, Villanova eliminated Denver in what is becoming an alarming trend. As invincible as Denver has been during recent BIG EAST regular seasons, the Pioneers have struggled down the stretch, especially in the shot-clock era.
A 5-0 run in the fourth quarter of yesterday’s game gave the Pios a fighting chance in the closing minutes but Denver’s fate was all but sealed early when they fell behind 11-7 at halftime. Denver could neither stop the surging Wildcats nor could they counter Villanova’s timely goals. Denver could only muster one goal in the third and trailed by five goals heading into the final 15 minutes. Denver’s fourth-quarter five-goal run pulled the Pioneers within one goal, 14-13, and DU won the ensuing faceoff. However, a critical turnover at 1:11 virtually ended DU’s chances. Villanova countered with a goal nearly a minute later to build an insurmountable two-goal lead with 20 seconds left. Game. Set. Match.
Alex Simmons had 6 goals and an assist for Denver and Jack Hannah had 3 goals and an assist in the losing effort. Matt Campbell led the Wildcats with 5 tallies.
This game was a perfect microcosm of Denver’s season. Their margin of error was slim all season long. Ground balls, turnovers, spotty goaltending and long scoring droughts haunted the Pioneers throughout the year. Perhaps it was an overall talent deficit versus past seasons. Maybe it was coaching as this team looked more mechanical than many of Denver’s past teams. Maybe it was not having creative scorer(s) to compliment Jack Hannah when the shot clock was running down.
Finally, though, it was apparent at most games that the opponent’s benches were showing energy during games while DU looked like they were on a business trip. Was Denver afraid of making mistakes or just plain worn out? We don’t know the exact answer to any of this but recent flameouts in BIG EAST tournaments will require some retooling and soul-searching by staff and program that knows what great looks like.
Denver has invested big in lacrosse and recent results are clearly below expectations for a program that is getting further and further away from the glory days of 2015.
Photo: Villanova Athletics