Commentary

'Battle of the Tierneys' favors Princeton

Tigers and Hofstra face off in men's lacrosse this weekend

Updated: March 13, 2009, 3:34 PM ET
By Quint Kessenich | ESPN.com

ESPN and Inside Lacrosse analyst Quint Kessenich is back with another look at the X's and O's of a notable game -- casting his eye on the tactics and matchups that will be in play when Princeton travels to Uniondale, N.Y., on Saturday afternoon to take on Hofstra.

Princeton at Hofstra

Saturday at 1 p.m. -- Uniondale, N.Y.

The Tigers and the Pride square off in the "Battle of the Tierneys" on Saturday. Bill Tierney, winner of six national championships, will go head-to-head with his nephew Seth Tierney, who's in his third season at Hofstra.

[+] EnlargeTyler Fiorito
Beverly SchaeferTyler Fiorito is a powerful freshman for the Tigers.

Princeton is 4-0. The Tigers have surrendered only 25 goals in four games and have not given up double digits in any contest. They are manufacturing 50 shots per game. Hofstra is 2-1 after a loss to Johns Hopkins; it has one-goal wins over UMass and Brown.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Freshman Goalies
Hofstra freshman goalie Andrew Gvozden will start again this week. Gvozden, the younger brother of Hopkins netminder Michael, made 11 saves in last Saturday's loss in Baltimore. He struggled in the first half -- he didn't have great balance or reactions to Hopkins' first four goals. But the rookie found his groove in the third quarter, making a handful of point-blank saves. He needs to carry that momentum into his home opener. Meanwhile, Princeton's Tyler Fiorito is quickly emerging as one of the nation's elite young goalies. The tall left-hander was terrific at UMBC last Friday night -- he was the difference in the game, making several impressive stops from midrange. Consistency from week to week is a huge issue with freshman goalies -- they are moodier than the Dow.

Tempo
Princeton has shown the ability to strike quickly in 2009, but UMBC slowed the game down to a crawl. I thought it was a positive sign for Princeton -- the Tigers have won slow- and fast-tempo games in 2009. Hofstra would prefer a fast tempo, but against Hopkins the Pride didn't generate any turnovers with defensive ball pressure. Transition starts on the defensive end, and Hofstra was ultra conservative and passive on defense. Hofstra has been outscored 21-8 in the first half of games this year, and trying to play catch-up against Princeton is nearly impossible.

Can Hofstra hit the net?
The Pride have too many of their studs in shooting slumps -- Kevin Ford is shooting 3-for-26 and Anthony Muscarella is 3-for-17.

What's the key for the Tigers?
First and third quarters. Princeton has a 12-3 edge in the first quarter and a remarkable 20-2 advantage in the third quarter. These are the "coaching quarters" -- it's evident that the Tigers are in tune with the game plan and adjustments that Bill Tierney and assistant coach Dave Metzbower are installing.

Matchup worth watching
Princeton's Paul Barnes and Hofstra's Joe Montemurro will square off at the X. Both are pit bull-style faceoff men -- this battle will be like watching MMA.

Who will make the difference?
Hofstra's defense. The Pride can't sit back and let Princeton operate comfortably in its 6-on-6 sets. They must slide early to Princeton lefty Mark Kovler (36 shots) and attackman Jack McBride (only 1 assist), and hedge to Rich Sgalardi (7 assists). Rob Engelke is a major threat on extra-man offense with four goals; the Tigers love to skip the ball through the 3-3 down low to Engelke. Hofstra must respect Princeton in transition -- when the opportunity arises, John Cunningham, Josh Lesko, Brendan Reilly and Chad Wiedmaier have all shown the ability to aggressively push the rock.

For more on college lacrosse, check out Inside Lacrosse.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN.