Rutgers eyes strong finish in Big Ten Tournament tuneup game against Ohio State
The Rutgers men’s lacrosse team had a fittingly feel-good finish to its 2015 season.
Already eliminated from conference tournament play after dropping their first four Big Ten games, the Scarlet Knights welcomed then-No. 10 Ohio State, who was still vying for the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten, to Piscataway on the last day of the regular season.
Of the Knights' 10 losses up until that point, six of them came by 2 goals or less, with four of them coming against ranked foes and three in conference play. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Rutgers was not only finally able to break through against a ranked opponent, but it was able to do it without the possibility of another letdown creeping into High Point Solutions Stadium.
The Knights steamrolled the Buckeyes 17-10, behind a 7-0 scoring advantage in the second quarter to put the game away by halftime, for their program's first Big Ten victory.
Just over a year to the date later, the two programs will meet under near the same circumstances, just with their roles being reversed. It will now be No. 16 Rutgers (10-3, 3-1) playing for a two-seed in the Big Ten tournament and Ohio State (6-8, 1-3), who could either be playing for its Big Ten Tournament lives' or simply pride come game time this Saturday in Columbus.
The Buckeyes need Michigan (3-9, 0-4) to take down Penn State (7-6, 1-3) for their game against the Knights to turn into a win-and-you're-in scenario. The Wolverines and Nittany Lions will do battle in Happy Valley at noon on Saturday, so Ohio State will know its fate when the ball is dropped in Columbus at 7 that same evening.
If Penn State comes out on top, the Buckeyes will be playing the role of spoiler to avenge its loss from last year, something Rutgers is conscious of heading into the regular season finale.
"I don't want to end on this, this isn't the end," said senior attacker Scott Bieda after the Knights beat Penn State April 20. "I wanna win Ohio State. They're probably gonna come back for us after last year, we spanked them here when we were at home. So they're gonna come for us, and I don't want to let up. I want to go into that tournament with a win over Ohio State, second in the Big Ten and see where we're at from there."
In Rutgers' upset of Ohio State last year, Jules Heningburg led the way with 3 goals. That strong end to his promising freshman season has carried over into what has been a breakout sophomore campaign.
The Maplewood, New Jersey, native paces the Big Ten and the Knights' No. 11 scoring attack with 37 goals. He's also second on the team, and in the conference, in total points with 54.
Heningburg's play really picked up since Rutgers began conference competition, totaling 17 goals and seven assists in four Big Ten games. His performance in the Knights' last game was not only the highlight of his hot streak but also his young career so far on the Banks.
The Seton Hall Prep product scored a career-high 6 goals and eight points in Rutgers' come-from-behind win, 15-14 over then-No. 17 Penn State last Friday. His sixth goal of the game was one of the more dazzling plays in lacrosse this season.
After Penn State's goalie Will Schreiner made a save on a shot from redshirt freshman attacker Adam Charalambides, he attemped to make a pass to a fellow teammate. Just as Schreiner released the ball, Heningburg came out of nowhere from behind the net to tip the ball into the air, corral it and fire the ball into the back of the net.
The goal gave the Knights their first lead of the game after trailing for the first 52-plus minutes and even landed on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays that night. His stellar performance that helped Rutgers clinch its first ever Big Ten Tournament appearance not only earned Heningburg Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors but USILA National Offensive Player of the Week as well.
"He's been growing his game each week of the season," said head coach Brian Brecht of Heningburg. "He's becoming an elite player at this level, and it's exciting cause, that whole attack unit, they work so well together, (and) they've been growing together. Him and Scott and (Charalambides) have a great knack for each other's skillsets. They've supported each other, and it's nice to see them playing well."
After No. 5 Maryland got by the Buckeyes on Sunday, 10-8, the Terrapins were able to lock down the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. With a win over Ohio State Saturday, Rutgers would clinch the No. 2 seed, but even if the Knights lose, they can only fall as low as the three seed.
But regardless of where Rutgers finishes in the standings, it is already locked into a matchup with No. 11 Johns Hopkins (8-4, 3-1) in the semifinal round of the program's first Big Ten Tournament.
The Knights cruised past the Blue Jays in Piscataway, 16-9, to open Big Ten play, but Johns Hopkins will have the home-field advantage this time around as the tournament's host team.
So while Ohio State may be the more desperate team come Saturday night, the Knights don't plan on slowing up. Rutgers wants to continue the momentum its built and ride it into its game against a dangerous Blue Jays team awaiting them in Baltimore come May 5.
"I think it's critical," said junior midfielder Christian Trasolini on finishing the season strong. "We always harp on finishing strong whether it's in a game setting or even in the season because you never know where the chips may fall. We might get first place or not — it's irrelevant — just beating Ohio State is what our next plan is going into the Big Ten Tournament hot."