This post has been updated.
NEW YORK — Two weeks ago, Cornell men’s lacrosse ran over a visiting Brown team by 14 goals, showcasing its offensive might on its way to a decisive victory.
On Friday evening, at Columbia’s Robert K. Kraft Field in Manhattan, the story was altogether different. The Red (11-4, 5-2 Ivy) narrowly held off Brown (6-9, 3-4) in the Ivy League semifinal by a score of 7-4.
“I think [the defense] did a good job,” said assistant coach Jordan Stevens ’15. “They answered the bell when we need them … Brown’s a team that really relies off of their rhythm and I think we got on them early, which was pretty big.”
Stevens was filling in for interim head coach Peter Milliman who coached Friday’s game but did not attend postgame media availability.
The game started slow, with the first 12:47 of the opening quarter passing by without any goals scored. Finally, it was Cornell’s junior attack Clarke Petterson that broke the offensive silence.
The Red’s star player sophomore attack Jeff Teat was a non-factor for much of the game, as Brown defenseman Michael Brown held the Ontario native to just three points.
“I think we did a good job just playing without [Teat],” Petterson said. “Obviously he’s one of the best players in the country, so it’s going to be tough to get the goals up there without being able to utilize him.”
The Red responded by having Teat lead his defender away from the play, leaving the offense in a five-on-five situation for much of the first half.
“We went to five on five to create more space for us,” Petterson said. “If Jeff and the person that’s locking him off are standing there in the middle, it kind of clogs things up for us a bit … [But] the principles of our offense stay the same. We stay disciplined, we try to work for the best shot.”
With the Red holding a one-goal lead as the first period expired, it was clear that Cornell was going to have to win this one without the high-octane offense that spectators are used to seeing.
“I think our offense did a good job,” Stevens said. “Maybe the numbers don’t show that at the end of the game, but we did what we needed to win … We’ve got to win different types of games, we can’t expect to blow everybody out.”
As the game tired on, the two stars of the contest emerged clearly — Brown goaltender Phil Goss, recently tabbed as a first-team All-Ivy selection, and Cornell goaltender Christian Knight. The two goalies combined for 33 saves in the contest and anchored their respective defenses to impressive performances.
“I think Christian is probably the best goalie in the country, and he played like it tonight,” Stevens said.
Knight’s 19 saves tied both a career and a season high, as the fifth-year senior finally earned a win in the Ivy League tournament on his third try at the event.
“It’s always great to get a team win, obviously,” Knight said. “To win the semis is a first for me, it’s a first for this team in a long time, and it felt great.”
Offensively, it was Cornell that outperformed its conference rival. With 6:29 remaining in the third quarter, the Red took a 5-1 lead on a goal from junior midfielder Jake McCulloch — a margin that proved too great for the Bears to overcome. The Red held off its opponent down the stretch, staving off a potentially disastrous upset as Brown scored a pair of goals in the fourth.
“We took a couple of shots early that weren’t necessarily off of ball movement,” Stevens said. “I think we could have shot a bit better, but in all honesty, we played to the situation of the game … You can’t play next week’s game, you can’t play last week’s game, you’ve got to play the one that’s out there.”
With the semifinal in the rearview mirror, Cornell will now take on the Yale for the Ivy League championship. The winner of that game will receive an automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA tournament, while the loser will see the fate of its season put in the hands of the selection committee.
“The mentality that we’ve had coming into this week is we’re only guaranteed one game at a time,” Petterson said. “The Ivy League championship … has been our ultimate goal since the start of the season. This is what we’ve been working for since the fall, this is what we’ve been dreaming of even longer than that.”
Cornell will get the chance to realize that dream at noon on Sunday at Kraft Field.