Rutgers heads down to College Park for Big Ten showdown
The Rutgers men's lacrosse team is coming off of its most complete game of the season in a 16-8 win over Michigan, and will need every bit of a complete performance Sunday night as the No. 8 Scarlet Knights (8-3, 1-1) head down to College Park to take on No. 1 Maryland (9-1, 2-0).
The Terrapins most recently beat a ranked Penn State team on the road and their one loss on the season came at the hands of No. 2 Albany in an 11-10 thriller.
"I think they're the most complete team in the country in terms of what they can do offensively and defensively," said senior attacker Jules Heningburg. "So you're really gonna have to beat them, they're not gonna beat themselves."
The matchup features the two best offensive players in the Big Ten in Maryland's Connor Kelly and Heningburg.
Heningburg leads the conference with 57 points and 27 assists, with Kelly leading the conference in points per game with 5.2.
Head coach Brian Brecht said that he is pleased with where the team is right now, noting its week-to-week improvement and the importance of peaking at the right time.
"You want to be playing your best lacrosse in conference play," Brecht said. "I'm happy that it's the middle of April and we're getting better each week. The competition's getting harder each week. That's the direction we want to be trending in."
While there is really no debate that the Terps are the top team in the nation right now, they are not unbeatable, and were pushed to the edge last week against the Nittany Lions. The week before against Michigan, Maryland was in a dogfight until ending the game on a 7-0 run.
The big reason for that is the Terps have struggled mightily at the faceoff X in their two conference games, winning at a conference-worst 36 percent.
For Rutgers, senior faceoff specialist Joe Francisco has come on strong after missing the start of the season with an injury and was struggling to get back to last year's 57-percent mark as the full-time man.
After splitting time with senior Alex Schoen, Francisco has established himself as a top-level player in conference play, going 60 percent through two Big Ten games.
"He's always been a talented faceoff technician," Brecht said. "I think the more experience he's had after coming back from an early season injury has given him the confidence to be playing his best ball at the end of the season when we need it."
Maryland is one of the most efficient and clean teams in the country and are the best in the Big Ten at not turning the ball over and committing penalties, as well as having the highest percentage of goals on man up opportunities.
Coming off a National Championship run in 2017, the Terps have showed no signs of slowing down.
"They are very good at what they do. They do not make a lot mistakes. We are going to have to make sure we are buttoned up offensively and defensively and not give them any extra opportunities," Brecht said. "...They're very deep, they're methodic and deliberate and they have a plan for everything. We need to play well and we need to limit our mistakes and capitalize off of the ones they give us."
With two top-10 teams facing off on Big Ten Network primetime, Sunday's game is clearly the most enticing of the college lacrosse weekend.
Heningburg noted that the Knights playing the way they did against the Wolverines will help them when they face Maryland, as they know what they are capable of and what changes they still need to make.
"It gives us good confidence, a good understanding that if we play a complete game, you can see the result of what happens," he said. "I think we learned from the (Johns) Hopkins game and applied those things to the Michigan game, I think we just gotta learn a little bit more from (the Michigan) game and go down to Maryland and showcase what we can do."