Rutgers refuses to be bullied by No. 20 Johns Hopkins in Baltimore
The perception that the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team will be a pushover in the Big Ten was dispelled Saturday as the Scarlet Knights stared into the eyes of the dragon and didn’t blink.
The Knights made history when they took on No. 20 Johns Hopkins in the first game of the Big Ten's inaugural lacrosse conference.
Rutgers suffered yet another narrow defeat, 9-7, this time at the hands of a one of the most storied lacrosse programs in the country in Johns Hopkins, at arguably the mecca of college lacrosse — Homewood Field in Baltimore.
But more importantly, the Knights established that they are not anyone’s kid brother, they did not make the trip down I-95 just to participate either — they came to play.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney was on hand to witness the momentous matchup and echoed the efforts displayed by the boys from the banks.
“It was obvious to me that Rutgers came to playright from the first faceoff,” Delaney said. "It took quite a bit for Hopkins to come back and win the game.”
Rutgers rushed in front before the 1,116 fans in attendance had time to settle in their seats.
Senior faceoff specialist Joe Nardella won the opening draw leading to freshman attacker Jules Heningburg’s goal to start the scoring just 12 seconds into the contest, an opening salvo letting the Blue Jays know this would not be a lazy win.
Hopkins answered to tie and the teams traded goals to get even again, 2-2. After a three-goal run by the Blue Jays the Knights got one back when Nardella found junior midfielder Zack Sikora to pull them within two at 5-3.
But after Hopkins Ryan Brown hammered another one home to cinch a first half hat trick, it looked like Rutgers would be overmatched.
It appeared as if the Knights had thrown their best punch and Hopkins had taken a hold of the game, poised to cruise in the second half for the win.
But Rutgers refused to go quietly.
The Knights came out of the locker room and dominated the third quarter, pushing past the Blue Jays with four unanswered goals.
Sophomore midfielder Jeff George scored the first goal, followed by sophomore attackers Connor Murphy and Christian Trasolini, before Heningburg scored his second of the game to give Rutgers a 7-6 lead with 1:10 to play in the third quarter.
The Knights played defense for almost the entirety of the final period where Hopkins fired nine shots, finding the back of the cage three times to earn the first win in Big Ten history.
Head coach Brian Brecht was pleased with his team’s performance, but saw room for improvement in the fourth quarter.
“The way we played in the third quarter offensively and defensively we needed to play that way for 60 minutes to get a big win on the road against a top program like Hopkins,” he said. “I thought it was very exciting for our student-athletes and for our institution to have this opportunity with us being the first Big Ten lacrosse game. (The players) handled it well and played a great game, we just came up a little short."
The margin could have been less manageable had it not been for the play of junior goaltender Kris Alleyne. The Knights' netminder stood on his head, making a career-high 12 saves and limiting the Blue Jays attack to nine goals after Hopkins entered the game averaging 11.25 scores per contest.
“He saw the ball real well today,” Brecht said of his goalie. "Making saves from the outside, (Alleyne) made some saves in tight that really allowed us to push in the third quarter and take a lead.”
Alleyne has had his ups and downs this season. After beginning 2015 as the starter, the former Big East Freshman of the Year struggled and lost his job to backup Jake Andersen for a spell.
But Alleyne has proven his ability to play consistently, registering 10 saves against Delaware, followed by seven stops against No. 10 Princeton and four more in a 21-2 walkover win against NJIT.
Nardella agreed that Alleyne’s play was crucial to Rutgers’ success.
“Hopkins has a ton of great shooters,” Nardella said. “Kris prepared well all week and give him a lot of credit, he’s dealt with some adversity, not playing his best at the beginning of the year and he’s really come back and come on strong.”
A future pro in Major League Lacrosse, Nardella was happy with his team’s effort and how they represented the school and the program.
“I think we did a great job representing Rutgers, obviously we wish we could have won, but I think we played with class and integrity and we fought to the end and that’s really all you can ask for.”
Brecht concurs with his captain, saying he believes Hopkins to be a top-five team not a top-20 team and while he refuses to accept the defeat as a positive, he knows his team is close.
“We certainly don’t want to settle in on moral victories. We’re a better team than we were last week, but we also played a better team than you would think when you look at the records,” Brecht said. “(If not for) one of those failed clears we get an extra possession. Whether its for 30 seconds or a minute and 30 seconds ... maybe it’s a different outcome.”
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