No. 18 Rutgers looks to NCAAs after 4-0 shutout loss to No. 12 Ohio State in Big Ten Tournament semifinals

<p>Senior center back Mitchell Lurie believes it just wasn't Rutgers day on Saturday against Ohio State. He remains confident that his team will make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2011.</p>

Senior center back Mitchell Lurie believes it just wasn't Rutgers day on Saturday against Ohio State. He remains confident that his team will make their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2011.

Entering its first Big Ten Tournament semifinal in program history, the No. 18 Rutgers men’s soccer team knew it had to remain focused and follow the game plan for 90 minutes if it wanted a shot to reach the finals.

The last time the Scarlet Knights faced No. 12 Ohio State — their opponents in the semifinals — they were able to hold them scoreless for 90 minutes, winning 1-0 through a late goal from sophomore forward Jason Wright. The Knights looked to replicate their performance from that game in order to advance to their first ever Big Ten Tournament final.

But the game plan quickly fell apart and Rutgers was unable to adjust.

The Knights suffered a goal within a minute of either half in a 4-0 loss at the hands of the Buckeyes that eliminates them from the Big Ten Tournament. Rutgers (12-6-1) now awaits the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Monday to see if it has earned a spot in the competition.

“I don’t think we played poorly, but we just really struggled from an energy standpoint,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “I don’t know if we’ve hit a wall physically and mentally because of the grind of the season, but it certainly wasn’t our day.”

Much like the last time the Knights faced Ohio State (13-6-2) away, they practically started the match down a goal. 

A move orchestrated by Yaw Amankwa and Marcus McCreary finished with Abdi Mohamed rifling the ball past junior goalkeeper David Greczek to give the home side a 1-0 lead in the first 50 seconds of the contest.

The early deficit shook Rutgers, but it remained confident that the game could be turned around.

“It definitely is not the way you want to start a game,” said senior center back Mitch Lurie. “Did (the early goal) affect us? Yeah, but at the same time … we’ve been in that situation before … even though the game didn’t end the way we wanted it to, when they did score that goal, I was completely confident in our guys. We’ve shown we have no problem scoring goals.”

Rutgers' hopes of equalizing were hurt significantly when its second-leading scorer, sophomore forward Miles Hackett, came off after reinjuring the hamstring that’s been giving him issues throughout the past couple of weeks. 

Hackett was replaced by freshman forward Brian Hawkins, who played the remainder of the match in his place.

The Buckeyes continued their early control of the match following the first goal, owning most of the possession and pinning Rutgers in its defensive third.

In the 20th minute, Ohio State doubled their lead through Danny Jenson. The junior forward gained position in the area in front of senior center back Drew Morgan and headered a Hunter Robertson cross past Greczek’s extended right hand to put Rutgers in a two-goal hole.

Following the goal, the Knights began to grow into the game as the minutes continued to pass. Their defensive unit buckled down and controlled the Buckeye forwards for the remainder of the half and the attack began to string together passes and make moves in the offensive third of the pitch. 

Despite the effort, Rutgers was unable to score before the half.

Coming out of the locker room, the Knights needed to replicate their opponent's strong start to the first half to keep the possibility of reaching their first ever Big Ten Tournament final alive.

But it was Ohio State that repeated its initial success, scoring its third goal 15 seconds into the second period through junior forward Christian Soldat. 

Soldat was found wide open at the edge of Greczek’s 6-yard box after Greczek saved the Buckeyes initial shot in the offensive movement.

“We felt like we could definitely get back in the game at halftime. We felt that we weren’t playing horribly, it was just little things … but you give up a third goal, it’s pretty demoralising,” said junior midfielder Erik Sa. “It’s not like we gave up by any means, but when we gave up that third goal ... we’re not machines, so we’re definitely gonna feel that and it’s going to affect us the rest of the game.”

The third goal brought the quality of the match down significantly.

Ohio State sat back in defense, looking to hold on to the comfortable lead. Rutgers continued to fight, but didn’t come close to causing danger to Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year Chris Froschauer.

The Knights struggled mightily in the final third. Aside from an offensive move from senior winger JP Correa where he dribbled into the area, cut to his left and forced Froschauer to punch away his curling effort, Rutgers was “static” and “lacked creativity in the final third,” Donigan said.

Heavy winds blowing against the Knights during both halves may have played a part in the lackluster performance of the 13th best attack in the country. Rutgers could complain about the weather, but chose to acknowledge that it played a factor for both teams.

“You can always say that the wind played a factor, but we were taught this year, ‘You can control what you can control, and then there are the uncontrollables.’ We couldn’t control anything with that,” Lurie said. “Sure, it was difficult judging balls and all that kind of stuff but it was difficult for them as well, so I can’t really use that as an excuse as to why we didn’t get a result. (Friday) just wasn’t our day. That’s what it comes down to.”

The Buckeyes scored a fourth goal for good measure with three minutes remaining in the game. A long range effort from substitute Alex Nichols sealed the Knights’ biggest loss since a 4-0 defeat to UC Santa Barbara in 2009.

The loss eliminates Rutgers from the Big Ten Tournament. 

But unlike last year, that doesn’t mean the season is over for the Knights.

Ranking 29th in the nation in RPI, Rutgers looks poised to be among the 64 teams partaking in the NCAA Tournament this season.

Looking back on his team’s body of work, Lurie won’t be too nervous watching the selection show on Monday.

“I think we put ourselves in a good spot,” Lurie said. “We’ve played a good schedule, we’ve done some good wins on the road … I’m pretty confident that we should have no problem getting an at-large bid and making the most of it. I’m excited to see the show and hopefully our name comes up on the screen.”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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