No. 8 Rutgers overcomes slow start to take down St. John's
Knights remain undefeated to start season
With a road trip to No. 16 Army looming, the Rutgers men's lacrosse team first had to deal with a pesky St. John's team at home on Saturday afternoon.
The No. 8 Scarlet Knights (2-0) did just that, overcoming a slow start to cruise by the Red Storm (0-1) by a score of 12-8.
Saturday saw two veterans in senior attacker Jules Heningburg and junior midfielder Casey Rose lead the charge for Rutgers, with Heningburg scoring 4 goals and dishing out an assist, while Rose netted a first-half hat trick to jumpstart an initially slow offense.
After St. John's jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead in the first quarter, Rose scored 3 straight goals to give the Knights a lead they would not relinquish.
"It felt pretty good," Rose said of his hat trick. "Shots were falling, they weren't sliding. (I) gotta shoot the ball when my hands are free."
Sophomore attacker Kieran Mullins found the back of the net for the first time this season, netting 2 goals and finding Heningburg for a fourth-quarter assist.
While Mullins didn't show up on the scoresheet last week against Robert Morris, head coach Brian Brecht praised him for his relentless effort off the ball and helping facilitate the offense.
"We ask a lot of him, not just with the ball but off ball," Brecht said. "It was good to see him get on the scoreboard and get a few points today. We certainly need him to be one of our lead guys as we go through the season."
Mullins enters his second year as a starter, after being thrown into the fire last season as a true freshman. With a full year playing alongside Heningburg, he has built a strong chemistry with his attacking counterpart.
The two combined for 8 points on Saturday and should be one of the best attacking tandems in the Big Ten.
"It's awesome," Mullins said of playing alongside Heningburg. "I feel like we have better chemistry and he's obviously a great player, so he makes me better and I try to help him as much as possible."
Mullins and Heningburg will look to be mentors to true freshman Tommy Coyne, who started his first career game against St. John's, despite the fact that he is an early enrollee and should still be in high school.
If that means less numbers for Mullins, he is okay with that, as he noted that he doesn't care about his individual numbers as long as the team is doing well.
"Honestly, if I don't score anything or get any assists, (it) doesn't matter as long as we're scoring and we're in the game," Mullins said. "That's all that matters."
At the all-important faceoff X, Alex Schoen got things started, but was streaky overall and finished at an even 50 percent (7-of-14).
Brecht made a switch later in the second half, having long-stick midfielder Kyle Pless take faceoffs to give Rutgers a new look at the "X."
Pless finished just 2-of-6, but Brecht said he liked the matchup and change of pace that Pless brought to the table.
"Kyle is someone that is in the game plan every week. He works on (faceoffs). It just allows us to have a different look," Brecht said. "... Sometimes it's about matchups. It's not always about career and season totals. Sometimes in a 60-minute game, (in) a certain matchup, you need to have a change of pace. Kyle is our change of pace guy and did a great job."
The defense for the Knights was very strong as per usual, despite the group giving the Red Storm open looks early in the game that led to goals. They yielded just 2 goals in the second and third quarters, helping set the tone and let the offense put the game away.
With defense as a constant strength for Rutgers, the offense is what can take the team to new heights this season. If Rose can continue to be an efficient scorer (3 goals on five shots), it keeps defenses honest and opens up holes for guys like Heningburg and Mullins.
It goes both ways, though, as Rose noted that when those two put points on the board, it helps him get open looks and leads to a better overall offensive performance.
"When Jules and Kieran are getting a lot of shots and scoring goals, it opens us up the midfield and vice versa," Rose said. "That's why we're a (good) team and a good offense, because we do compliment each other well. I know Jules is gonna find me when he draws a lot of attention and I like to think I'd find him."