High-powered Rutgers offense meets stingy Army defense
Last season, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team fell victim to a number of defeats in tight games, with six of its 10 losses coming by two goals or less.
In their 2016 season opener, the Scarlet Knights made sure the game was decided well before the final moments.
The Knights (1-0) exploded for 19 goals — 12 of which coming in the first half — as they cruised to an 8-point victory over St. John’s (0-1).
Rutgers trailed 3-0 just under four minutes into the game, but fired back with eight consecutive goals in a seven-minute span. The Knights led for the final 55 minutes and 49 seconds of the game and held a lead of at least five over the Red Storm for the last 46 minutes and 21 seconds.
As the Knights shift their focus to the second game of the season — a Saturday matinee matchup with Army (1-0) in West Point, New York — the area of their game they are looking to improve on from their debut is a bit surprising.
Even after finding the back of the cage 19 times off of 47 total shots, Rutgers believes it can improve in the attacking half even more moving forward by being in full attack mode for the entirety of a game.
“I think we can improve maybe just on our offense,” said senior attacker Scott Bieda. “I think we slowed down in that third quarter, they held us a little bit. So obviously, you know, coming into the second half, we gotta keep going. We can’t stop when we’re up 19, 17-10 or what not. We gotta keep going, put the pedal to the medal, don’t slow down on offense and keep it rolling.”
If the Knights believe they left goals on the field at High Point Solutions Stadium last Friday, they could boast an even more lethal offense than last year, when their 10.33 goals per game mark was good for second in the Big Ten.
Eight different Knights contributed to the 19-goal effort in the season debut, but two players in particular led the charge.
Bieda, the team's captain, had his fingerprints on almost half of his team’s goals.
Coming off a season in which he led the team with a 3.86 points per game average, the Bridgewater, New Jersey, native notched a career-high 9 points, tallying five goals and setting up four others. Even more impressive, Bieda scored 6 of his 9 points in the first quarter.
His stellar performance landed him Offensive Player of the Week honors from the Big Ten and the NCAA.
The other attacker to have their performance recognized by the Big Ten was Adam Charalambides, who won Freshman of the Week in the conference. In his first game in a Rutgers uniform, the redshirt freshman stepped right into the starting lineup and scored six goals, along with dishing out an assist.
For a team that already returned its top-six scorers from the prior season, adding Charalambides into the mix gives an already formidable offense yet another dangerous weapon.
“I mean, as long as we trust each other and throw more passes and rely on each other, I think we can go a long way,” Charalambides said. “... Definitely playing a full 60 minutes is what we wanna do here for Rutgers lacrosse.”
After losing to the Knights in overtime two seasons ago, Army came back with a vengeance in last season’s matchup. The then-No. 9 Black Knights jumped out to a 6-1 lead over the Scarlet Knights more than halfway through the second quarter on a snowy day at High Point Solutions Stadium.
Rutgers locked down defensively for the remainder of the game and cut its deficit to two twice in the fourth quarter, but failed to muster up enough offense against a strong Army defense.
Although the Inside Lacrosse’s poll does not currently list Army among the top-20 teams, the Black Knights are a more than capable opponent.
In its season opener, Army took down Massachusetts 9-5, flashing early signs of the return of its seventh-ranked scoring defense from last year. The Minutemen only racked up 17 shots, with just nine coming on goal.
The defensive style of game that the Black Knights play could turn this into Rutgers’ first close battle of the season. Although last year’s team struggled in tight games against their top opponent, it is unknown how this Knights team will perform in those games.
What Rutgers has been able to show through one game is its ability to play with and hold a lead for an entire game, which was an impressive feat for a generally young Knights’ team.
“Handling a lead is just as important as being able to fight and claw yourself back after going down … just as important to be able to play in a one-goal game for 60 minutes and keep the edge,” said head coach Brian Brecht. “It’s hard coming back from maybe giving up a lead and it’s hard to be in a one-goal game where every play, every groundball, every save and every turnover is magnified when it’s so close. So ... now they know how it is to come out of the locker room at halftime with a lead.”