For Penn State lacrosse and any NCAA team, losing is one thing, especially when it’s to the No. 1 team in the country.
Penn State’s opponent, Duke, has won three national titles since 2010 and was in the Final Four as recently as 2021.
On the other hand, PSU had only been to the Final Four once before, in 2019, and before that run, hadn’t even won an NCAA Tournament game in program history.
Not to say Penn State didn’t deserve to be in this year’s Final Four. Coach Jeff Tambroni’s program is no slouch. But if one team had to be the proverbial “David” in the first of two semifinal games Saturday afternoon, it would have been Penn State.
There would have been no shame in simply losing to Duke. The 2023 season has been a massive step forward for Penn State’s program. So, it’s hard to imagine anything happening Saturday in Philly, good, bad or indifferent, changing that.
In a vacuum, an overtime loss to Duke would have been hard to swallow. Any loss is, especially one in the Final Four.
But how the 16-15 loss happened is, unfortunately, the main and, for many, the only takeaway from a beautiful May Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.
The record books will tell you that Duke made it to the 2023 NCAA Men’s Lacrosse National Championship Game on a game-winning overtime goal by Garrett Leadmon. That is, indeed, what happened.
But, well, there’s just a little more to it than that.
Replay clearly showed that Leadmon’s right foot was in the goal crease.
Had the officials caught that, the goal wouldn’t have stood, and the game would have continued.
THE REPLAYS. 👇
Was Leadmon the crease? pic.twitter.com/UE8H2PCMf6
— USA Lacrosse Magazine (@USALacrosseMag) May 27, 2023
But the officials missed it, and because of rules that people will heavily scrutinize for the rest of the weekend and beyond, the play was unreviewable.
In women’s lacrosse, plays like this can be challenged.
Not so in the men’s game.
The NCAA says that “Video replay at NCAA Championships is permitted in the following cases:
- “To correct the game clock and/or shot clock when there’s a malfunction”
- “To review the release of a shot at the end of a period in relation to the expiration of time for the game clock or the shot clock”
- “To review if a shot at the end of a period is deflected off of a defensive or offensive player before it enters the goal”
- “To review if a shot hits the camera mounted inside the goal cage”
The play that ended Penn State’s season falls outside these categories.
After the game, Tambroni didn’t launch a viral tirade and didn’t blame the officials on the field.
But he did speak his mind.
“There should definitely be a review,” Tambroni told reporters. “At what point and at what level we implement that? I hope it does go in there at some point. There are plenty of calls missed throughout the course of a lacrosse game. With three extremely capable officials trying to cover 100 yards, it’s bound to happen. It certainly was not a malicious call.”
Tambroni said he had yet to see the replay at the time of his press conference.
On the other side, Duke coach John Danoski was asked by David Jones of PennLive.com and the Harrisburg Patriot-News if he’d like to see the rule change in the future.
“Not today,” Danoski responded.
The man who scored the goal didn’t have too much to add.
“I saw the referee put his hands up in the air, and I figured we won the game, and that’s the end of that,” Leadmon said.
Graduate student Jack Traynor played his last game for Penn State. He was hurting along with the rest of his teammates.
But he was able to keep a veteran’s perspective after the brutal loss.
“We’re definitely not a group to sit up there and point fingers and kind of ask ‘What if?” Traynor said. “Unfortunately, that was the circumstance. We’ll just try to hold our heads high and be proud of what we accomplished.”
Penn State’s accomplished a lot and certainly has nothing to be ashamed of.
That’s the consensus among people who watched Saturday’s game or at least saw its controversial ending.
But many, from casual viewers and tweeters to lacrosse insiders, feel that NCAA Lacrosse has much to work on.
“Our game has got to catch up,” ESPN’s Bill Tierney, who coached at Denver and Princeton, said on ESPN’s post-game show. “That’s a big-time play and a big-time loss. Obviously, Duke gets to move on, but Penn State, which played an amazing game, has to suffer with this for the rest of their lives, really.”