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Rutgers closes out season with wins against Michigan State, Purdue

The last two games of the regular season are now in the books as the Rutgers women's soccer team and head coach Mike O'Neill look ahead to a home playoff game next weekend. 

With another 1-0 overtime victory on Thursday night against Michigan State and a 2-1 senior day win against Purdue on Sunday, the Scarlet Knights finished the 2018 regular season 11-2-5 and 7-1-3 in the Big Ten. 

With the wins, Rutgers finishes with 24 points in the Big Ten standings and jumps over Wisconsin into the No. 2 seed for the Big Ten Tournament, after the Badgers’ 2-1 loss to Ohio State in their season finale. 

The Knights finish 3 points shy of Penn State for the No. 1 seed, as the Nittany Lions clinched the regular season title that Rutgers hoped to be in control of heading into the final weeks of the season.

The loss to Penn State last Sunday ultimately ended up deciding the fate of the Big Ten, but the Knights still put themselves in the best position they could following the loss. 

On the road against a winless Spartans team, the offense was stifled by Michigan State goalkeeper Reilley Ott, who had nine saves on the day and extended Rutgers' streak of scoreless regulation periods to 10.

A defense that has been consistently trending upward kept the Knights in the game for their eighth shutout of the season, as Rutgers was destined for another overtime match to tie a national record.

It would be junior midfielder Nicole Whitley who delivered the golden goal on the brink of a disappointing tie, as she beat Ott to find the back of the net with 30 seconds remaining in the second overtime period.

“We kind of said we didn’t want to go to anymore overtime games, so we really focus on ending it in regulation,” Whitley said.

When the Knights went to overtime against the Spartans, the game marked the 11th time this season that they would go into extra minutes. Not only is that a program record, but it also matches the NCAA record for most overtime games in a single season.

Rutgers is undefeated in overtime matches this year, as it is 6-0-5 in games played past regulation. For an offense that has struggled to score in regulation, the team’s performance in overtime has made all the difference in determining the course of this season. 

In Big Ten play this year, the Knights have scored 6 goals in overtime versus only 4 in regulation. Four of those game winners have come off the foot of sophomore forward Amirah Ali, while senior midfielder Adora Moneme and now Whitley have also hit a golden goal in a game.

“It’s so important to get the win on the road ... and again they found a way to score with 33 seconds left in the game," O'Neill said. "But it's been a year of a lot of overtime so we got some tired legs, but what amazes me is that they always find a way.”

On Sunday for the team’s senior day, Rutgers finished off the season with the type of win it had not seen against any Big Ten opponent this year. Against the Boilermakers, the Knights played to a scoreless first half to extend their streak of scoreless regulation periods to 11 straight. 

It would be junior backfielder Amanda Visco that ended the drought late in the second half when she headed a corner kick from senior backfielder Madison Pogarch into the back of the net for the team’s first regulation goal since Sept. 30 against Minnesota.

The Visco goal wouldn’t be enough to put away a Purdue team that was looking for only its second conference win of the year. The Boilermakers' midfielder Kylie Hase tied it in the final 15 minutes, when she beat freshman goalkeeper Meagan McClelland for the equalizer.

Tied at 1-1, Rutgers was only 10 minutes away from breaking the national overtime game record, going for its 12th of the year. 

On one last push in the final 10 minutes, a shot by Ali caused Purdue goalkeeper Marisa Bova to lose her footing, giving sophomore forward Nneka Moneme a chance to get the ball over to sophomore midfielder Gabby Provenzano to score uncontested for her 2nd goal of the season.

“It got into Amirah and she’s such a talented player and she’s so crafty and she beat the player and was going in, so I took a chance and got in the box and credit to Nneka who shielded the ball and shielded the goalie and the ball was right by my feet and I was right there,” Provenzano said.

The goal marked the first time the Knights have scored multiple goals in regulation since the middle of September against La Salle, and the team’s first conference win without having to go to overtime all year.

“In order for us to do well in the postseason we need to have answers, we need a couple of people that can come through and create and finish for us and so by two different players getting the goals today that was big for us,” O'Neill said.

For updates on the Rutgers women's soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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