September 23, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers regroups ahead of matchup with NJIT

The perfect team at the perfect time.

Coming off back-to-back losses following a 5-0 start, the No.18 Rutgers men's lacrosse team would be hard-pressed to find a more favorable matchup than welcoming NJIT to High Point Solutions Stadium Friday night under the lights.

For head coach Brian Brecht, the timing of the opponent, coupled with the current losing skid, is significantly beneficial.

“We’ve got to lick our wounds and take a step back,” Brecht said after Monday’s loss at Princeton. “We have a great opportunity now, we’re on spring break, we have a chance to regroup, we have a chance to develop.”

The last time these two schools met the Scarlet Knights (5-2) decimated the Highlanders defense, scoring 21 goals en route to a 21-2 rout in Newark last March.

After Friday, Rutgers has just one more non-conference contest remaining (Delaware March 26) before their season will truly be defined, having to negotiate arguably the toughest conference slate in the country, beginning with last year's national semifinalist, John's Hopkins, when Big Ten play begins April 2.

In their last time out, the Knights hardly resembled the potent offensive attack that became a staple of Rutgers 5-0 run.

At the conclusion of their fifth consecutive win, the Knights had tallied 71 goals, good enough for an average of 14.2 goals per game over the first five.

Freshman attacker Adam Charalambides burst onto the collegiate lacrosse scene, scoring 17 goals in the first five games of his career. Fellow attackers, sophomore Jules Heningburg and senior Scott Bieda teamed with Charalambides to tally 71 goals during the win streak.

But in Rutgers consecutive losses, Charalambides scored only twice and the Knights top attackers netted only 5 combined goals.

“We didn’t change the plane of the ball and I’m disappointed because we spent a lot of time over the (prior) two days -- quick turnaround -- as far as shooting and ball movement,” Brecht said. “We didn’t have ball movement and we didn’t shoot well (at Princeton.)”

As a team, Rutgers scored a total of 13 goals in losses to Stony Brook and Princeton, a fact that Brecht finds to be a reflection of the uptick in competition.

“We have a very good team,” the fifth-year head coach said. “We are playing better teams right now and we have to do a better job of executing through our system.”

Despite the offensive struggles, the Knights entered the second half against the Tigers tied, 2-2.

By the 10:50 mark of the third quarter, Princeton pushed four goals past senior goaltender Kris Alleyne and from there it was curtains.

The Tigers went on to a 10-7 win, leaving senior midfielder Zack Sikora looking for the defense that served as a silent catalyst for the five-game win streak.

“We got away from what we always do and how we play and how a Rutgers defense is,” Sikora said Monday. “The whole first half we gave up one goal. We were a solid core defense and then, we lost focus for a little bit, gained it back after those goals poured in, but we can’t have that anymore.”

On the bright side, the program has made a dramatic improvement compared to last season’s non-conference slate.

Through seven games in 2015, the boys from the Banks were 2-5.

In 2016 they've managed to flip the script, winning five of their first seven.

To further highlight the impact, Rutgers didn’t secure its fifth win of 2015 until the regular season finale, a 17-10 win over Ohio State, marking the biggest victory of the year.

Neither defense nor offense should be a concern for Brecht as NJIT is surrendering an average of 15.9 goals per game while generating only 5.3 goals per, offensively.

There is no other way to sugar, NJIT represents a chance for the Knights to reestablish a rhythm on both sides of the field.

Suffice it to say, there is no panic in the Rutgers locker room.

The Knights preseason All-Big Ten selection and resident field general Bieda believes the back-to-back losses are simply a part of the process.

“I think that great teams always deal with adversity,” Bieda said. “This was just a setback and great teams come back from that even stronger. So that’s what we gotta do: never stop, keep getting better."

For updates on the Rutgers men's lacrosse team, follow @KevinPXavier and @TargumSports on Twitter.

Kevin Xavier

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