Thoughts of Big East season linger as RU travels
To qualify for a bid in the Big East Tournament, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team needs only three wins in conference play.
And for 59 straight minutes last weekend against St. John’s, the Scarlet Knights looked like they had their first of three pivotal wins on lock. Then the Johnnies scored with only 2 seconds left on the clock, and the Knights fell to 0-1 in conference play.
Rutgers (4-4, 0-1) stays in the Big East on Sunday, traveling to Notre Dame. And with thoughts of the last-second loss against St. John’s still fresh, the Knights are adamant that they will not let another one slip through their fingers.
“Losing the first Big East game makes the Notre Dame game even bigger for us,” said senior midfielder Will Mangan. “We have to make it to one of those top four spots, and it’s looking like you have to be at least 3-3 to have a shot. We have five league games left, only need three wins.”
Even Mangan’s first-quarter hat trick — his fourth of the season — was not enough to secure the first conference win for the Knights. Even so, Mangan saw a Rutgers team for the majority of the game that is ready to recover and get the first Big East win under its belt.
“I thought we played hard the whole game. It was just a couple of things here and there, little mistakes we have to clean up,” Mangan said. “It could have gone either way. We just have to bounce back and get some league wins.”
After Mangan’s three goals in only the first frame, the Knights had control against St. John’s until the end. Head coach Brian Brecht also saw a team that handled itself well, even in its first conference loss.
Entering the Notre Dame matchup, Brecht does not wish to dwell on the “why’s” and “why not’s” of the St. John’s loss.
“When you come up short by one goal, you look at everything — how you used your timeouts, that one unsuccessful clear, that one groundball you did not pick up,” Brecht said. “At the end of the day, I believe we are a much better team than we were last week.”
Brecht preaches that the core of his team’s focus must be on its conference opponents. Although the Knights opened their season with strong out-of-conference games — their first game of the season was against No. 2 Duke — Brecht stresses the must-win games begin now that conference play has opened up.
“One of the things we have talked about is no matter what we do in our non-league games — and we have very strong non-league opponents — at the end of the day, we need to take care of our conference,” Brecht said. “Only the top four go. This is a journey.”
Brecht said it began with the St. John’s loss and continues at Notre Dame. The matchup with the Fighting Irish marks the second stop on a four-game Big East stretch. After that, the Knights only have two more conference games.
At some point within the stretch, the Knights must secure those three essential wins needed to qualify.
“We have gotten a lot better from the first week of practice until now. Really, we are 0-1 right now,” Brecht said. “The season is just starting. We need to get three wins in the conference, and we only have five more opportunities to get those wins.”