Freshman Kieran Mullins powers No. 14 Rutgers past No. 19 Brown
The Rutgers men’s lacrosse team has numerous established players all across the field that have stepped up and made big plays in their careers. Kieran Mullins was not one of those — until Saturday.
The freshman from traditional lacrosse-power Islip, New York scored 4 goals, including 3 in the fourth quarter, propelling the No. 14 Scarlet Knights (5-0) past No. 19 Brown (1-2) by a score of 13-11.
“Feels great,” said senior midfielder Jeff George, who had 2 goals and 2 assists. “I think we were just excited to be here. The whole game was an up and down game and that’s the style we like to play. (In the) fourth quarter, (it was a) tight one. It’s just an exciting game to be in so we were ready to go.”
The Bears came into the game as the top-ranked scoring offense in the country, averaging 21 goals per game. The Knights defense, which has been the team’s best unit, held them 10 goals under their season average.
Although reigning Tewaarton Award winner Dylan Molloy scored 3 goals and had an assist, he was held scoreless for the final 25 minutes of the game and was unable to make an impact down the stretch, turning the ball over seven times.
Rutgers was also able to force 14 turnovers, with junior defenders Alex Bronzo and Michael Rexrode combining to force nine.
“We got a very mature defense,” said head coach Brian Brecht. “They prepare extremely well. They understood who they were playing. They understood playing to their strengths.”
Along with the defense, the midfield, specifically the rope unit, has been a model of consistency for this team.
Brecht has raved about sophomore long-stick midfielders Kyle Pless and Garrett Michaeli all season-long. Junior short-stick defensive midfielders Christian Mazzone and Christian Scarpello round out the unit, one that acts as a liaison between the defense and the offense.
With both teams combining for 38 turnovers, there were plenty of ground balls out for the taking. The rope unit played a key role in helping Rutgers hold a 50-36 advantage in ground balls and not letting Brown get out to an even bigger advantage early in the game.
“That rope unit continues to impress me,” Brecht said. “We ask a lot of them and that’s not always perfect but today it was very, very good.”
And while the midfield has another strong game and junior goalie Max Edelmann was once again clutch down the stretch, it was Mullins that stole the show.
Brecht praised his work ethic, noting that he spends hours and hours outside of practice working on his shooting and adding new looks to his arsenal.
“Talk about a guy who’s developing,” Brecht said. “He’s been spending a lot of time shooting on his own outside of practice, having a little more shot release points. Give him a lot of credit for putting in the time … 4 goals, that a big game for him against a ranked team.”
With the teams tied at 10 goals apiece heading in the fourth quarter, it seemed like it would be a back and forth affair until the final whistle.
But the Knights suddenly reappeared as the dominant transition team that scored them so many goals in the past.
Just under two minutes into the fourth quarter, Michaeli forced a turnover on Molloy and pushed it up the field to Mazzone. He found Mullins on the right side of the goal, who shot a riser from close distance — a move Brecht said he didn’t have in his repertoire until only about a month ago — to put Rutgers up 11-10.
Just two minutes later, on nearly an identical sequence, Mullins put the Knights up by 2 goals and secured his first career hat trick.
But with Brown scoring again to make it a 1-goal game, Rutgers needed to pull ahead for good after a few sloppy possessions. Mullins roamed behind the net as sophomore attacker Jules Heningburg tossed in a pass that Mullins leaped in the air and flushed in the back of the net all in one swift motion. That would be the dagger and secure the 11th straight home victory for the Knights.
“I just came in from behind, Jules made a great feed and I had an easy job finishing it,” Mullins said.
Mullins will have to continue the strong play, as Rutgers welcomes yet another ranked opponent into High Point Solutions Stadium next week as the Knights host No. 18 Stony Brook on Friday night.
The emergence of Mullins should also help Heningburg regain his goal-scoring prowess, as the Tewaarton Award finalist has just 1 goal in his past two games. Previously, with no other threats to score, teams were able to focus on shutting him down and not worry about anyone else.
But now with Mullins as a proven finisher, things can only look up for this Rutgers team.
“I just knew my times to attack and score goals,” Mullins said.