Rutgers hunts for upset win over No. 5 Maryland on road
The Rutgers men's lacrosse team has used wins its first two Big Ten games to put itself in striking distance of clinching a spot in the conference tournament at the conclusion of the season.
The No. 18 Scarlet Knights (9-2, 2-0) opened Big Ten play with a dominating performance over then-No. 9 Johns Hopkins, leading the Blue Jays for nearly the entire game in a 16-9 win at home.
Last weekend, Rutgers was able to protect its unscathed home and conference records with a 13-6 win over Michigan, propelled by a 13-save effort from senior goalie Kris Alleyne and a 5-0 scoring advantage in the final quarter. The win over the Wolverines kept the Knights atop the Big Ten standings.
While Rutgers may be in the driver's seat in the conference, there are still three other Big Ten foes ahead in the national rankings — No. 5 Maryland and the pair of Penn State and Johns Hopkins, who are both tied at No. 14.
The national rankings don't determine the four teams that make it to the conference tournament nor the seedings within it. With match-ups against Maryland, Penn State and Ohio State — who has suffered one-goal losses to No. 1 Notre Dame, Penn State and Johns Hopkins — still remaining on the Knights' schedule, the road to a high seeding or a tournament berth won't be easy to come by.
"(Beating Michigan was) big, but we still have three more games this season and we have a huge game coming this week," said senior long-stick midfielder Zack Sikora. "So it's just focus on the next game now."
This Saturday, Rutgers will square off against the highest ranked team in the Big Ten — the No. 5 Terrapins (8-2, 2-0), travelling to College Park with the opportunity to avenge a loss from last year.
When Rutgers and the then-No. 3 Terrapins faced off last season in Piscataway, the Knights used a 4-goal second quarter to take a 4-2 lead entering the half.
The home team scored in the first minute of the second half to stretch their lead to 3, but Maryland scored 6 of the next 7 goals to jump on top 8-6 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the game.
Rutgers refused to shy away, scoring the next 2 goals in under a four minute span — capped off by a diving score from senior attacker Scott Bieda in front of the net — to tie the game at 8 with 3:43 remaining.
But just when it appeared as if the Knights were going to push the Terrapins into overtime, the visitors escaped with a win in the waning moments of the game.
Matt Rambo started with the ball behind Rutgers' net and looped around the front right side, firing a shot from about seven feet out that found the top corner over Alleyne's shoulder to give Maryland the lead it would not relinquish with just 13 seconds left.
Beating the Terrapins was a tall task for the Knights a year ago and it won't come any easier this time around.
"Anytime you play a top-five school, it's gonna be a challenge," said head coach Brian Brecht. "I like the way our guys are playing right now. We're preparing well, (the assistant coaches) have done an outstanding job every week getting the guys ready and understanding the game-plan ... It'll be an exciting time here at practice this week."
Saturday's game will feature a heavyweight showdown on Maryland's end of the field, where Rutgers' No. 8 scoring offense (13.09 goals per game) clashes with the Terrapins' No. 10 scoring defense (8.0 goals per game). The Knights have only been held to 8 goals or less in just two games, each resulting in the only two losses this season.
If Rutgers can't get to a 9-goal mark, where it is a perfect 9-0, then it is going to need its defense to continue to be stout. While Maryland's defense leads the Big Ten, the Knights aren't too far behind, allowing just 8.64 goals per game.
A good amount of the success on the defensive end can be attributed to the rejuvenated play of Kris Alleyne, who has a 57.1 save percentage since taking back over the starting job for injured sophomore Max Edelmann.
If Alleyne and Rutgers' back end can continue its smothering play against a Maryland attack that averages 10.64 goals per game, the Knights should find themselves in a position to knock off the Terrapins.
And if the Knights can come out on top this time around, they would secure their second win over a top-10 opponent for the first time since 2003 and be on track for the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
"I'm real excited for that game and I know my teammates (are) too," said senior attacker Scott Bieda. "You don't do anything different. You prepare like it was any other game. ... You got six teams that are all really good. I'm just excited to bring Rutgers lacrosse and try to get a Big Ten win against a great team, Maryland, and make a statement to everyone that these aren't fluke games. Rutgers lacrosse is here to play."