No. 13 Rutgers lets game slip away late in 15-14 loss to Princeton
PRINCETON, N.J. — The cup is going back to Princeton.
The Rutgers men's lacrosse team had a 14-10 lead with 9 minutes and 58 seconds left. It looked like the No. 13 Scarlet Knights were on their way to defeating the Tigers on the road for the first time since 1989 and keeping the coveted Meistrell Cup in Piscataway.
But the experienced team played uncharacteristically sloppy down the stretch, letting Princeton score 4 unanswered goals to close out regulation.
In overtime, senior midfielder Christian Mazzone was stopped at the doorstep and on the other end, Austin Sims fired in his fifth goal of the game, tossed his stick and the Tigers stormed the field in celebration.
Despite playing enough offense to score a season-high 14 goals, Rutgers failed to put one in during the last 9:58 of regulation, as they seemed to take their foot off the gas pedal and were too conservative.
Princeton took advantage and seized the momentum to score 5 straight goals to win the game by a score of 15-14.
"We were trying to hold it on offense and we didn't really play much offense," said junior midfielder Casey Rose. "And we didn't capitalize when we did."
With the Tigers' defense focused on senior captain Jules Heningburg, sophomore attacker Kieran Mullins stepped up to score 5 goals and add an assist. Heningburg was still effective, though, as he scored twice and had four assists. Rose also added a hat trick — his second of the season — to help pace the offense.
Despite his stellar individual effort, Mullins is turning the page, as the Knights have a midweek contest on Wednesday night, visiting Lehigh.
"They outplayed us at the end. It stinks for us. It hurts a lot definitely," Mullins said. "We just gotta bounce back Wednesday versus Lehigh. (We) can't let this affect us going down the rest of the season."
When asked about the team playing well enough to get out to a 14-10 lead, head coach Brian Brecht noted that he thought his team played anything but that.
He was clearly upset with the team, adding that they shouldn't have even gotten to overtime with Princeton.
"We lost in every stat. We got out-groundballed, we got outshot. We lost in faceoffs, we lost in saves, we had more turnovers," Brecht said. "We didn't play well. We were lucky to go to overtime. That was the worst I've seen us play ... I'm disappointed."
He was especially disappointed with his team giving up the ball in the fourth quarter, when simply clearing the ball and holding it for possessions would have likely given Rutgers a win.
With a 14-11 lead, after the Knights blocked a Phillip Robertson shot, Sims forced a turnover on a failed clear and Connor McCarthy would score to make it 14-12.
"At this level, you can't roll out the balls and not play well and expect to win," Brecht said.
Junior midfielder Mark Christiano was called for an illegal body check on that goal, and Princeton had a man-up opportunity on the ensuing possession.
After Rose was called for an offside with just more than a minute left, the Tigers converted again on a man-up opportunity, with a Sims goal coming with 49 seconds left.
Of their six man-up opportunities, the Tigers converted four, one of the many statistical discrepancies in the game.
"We were offsides, we were giving up man-down goals, failed clear when you're up 4 ... throw the ball away up 4 (goals)," Brecht added to his list of frustrations.
He said that when the players had a chance to watch the film of Saturday's game, they would see a lot of things that led to the loss and that would make them upset.
"They're upset now, I'm upset now, I'm disappointed now," Brecht said. "When you watch the film and you see all the mistakes that were made, you get fired up because we didn't play well."
With Sunday off and just two days of preparation before visiting Lehigh, Rutgers has a lot to work on if they want to come out victorious in what will be their third consecutive road game.
"I'll know more on Monday when I look in their eyes and I see their attitude," Brecht said.