Rutgers readies for battle against No. 1 Loyola

On Saturday, the Rutgers men's lacrosse team will face its toughest test of the 2019 campaign as it gets set to host No. 1 Loyola. This marks the first top-10 opponent for the No. 19 Scarlet Knights (2-1) on the season. 

The Greyhounds (2-0) are coming off a decisive 18-12 victory against their in-state rival No. 15 Johns Hopkins last Saturday. Their offense was firing on all cylinders in that game, led by 4 goals apiece from Chase Scanlan and Kevin Lindley. Lindley was Loyola's leading scorer in 2018, finishing the year with 37 goals. 

The team also got a hat trick from Pat Spencer, a three-time All-American who currently leads the Greyhounds with 8 goals and six assists on the season. 

Fortunately for Rutgers, it got its preseason All-Big Ten fifth-year senior goalie Max Edelmann back from injury last week, and he returned to the form that the Knights have come to expect from him. 

Edelmann posted 17 saves on 27 shots on goal against No. 13 Army. Maintaining a high level of play between the pipes would go a long way toward containing the Greyhounds’ attack.

“(Loyola's) Pat Spencer is a great lacrosse player, but it's not necessarily worrying about matchups — it’s about playing our game,” Edelmann said. “We need to focus on the little things. Clearing the ball, making our stops as well as pushing transition.”

The Achilles heel for Rutgers against the Black Knights, defensively, was maintaining possession. The Knights had 20 turnovers and a minus-9 turnover differential last week. This interfered with their ability to get quality scoring opportunities. 

Head coach Brian Brecht emphasized that a lack of ball security will make it tough for Rutgers to get into a rhythm.

“We can’t be turning the ball over twice as much as our opponent against any team,” Brecht said.

Another area in which the Knights struggled was in the clearing game, with four failed clears against the Army. The Greyhounds pounced on failed clears against the Blue Jays, who only went 8 for 15 on clears. As a result, Loyola was able to generate extra opportunities and dominate the flow of the game. 

Offensively, Rutgers will look to get its main weapons on the board early and often to keep pace with the Greyhounds. The attack has been bolstered by attackmen junior Kieran Mullins and sophomore Adam Charalambides, who has returned to the lineup for the first time in two seasons. The two have formed a dynamic duo, combining to score 23 goals in three games. 

Due to turnovers and a stringent Black Knight defense, the duo couldn’t really get into a rhythm, at one point going 10 minutes without scoring a goal. 

One area where the Knights will look to have an advantage is in the ground ball matchup. Rutgers currently leads the Big Ten with 38.7 ground balls per game, and senior defenseman Garrett Michaeli has been a critical contributor in that regard. Michaeli currently leads the team with 13 ground balls on the year, which is the most per game in the Big Ten for a non-face-off specialist. 

As for the face-off matchup, the Knights may have to rely on freshman face-off specialist Michael Ott and fifth-year senior Alex Schoen to win the ball at Stadium against Loyola, depending on the status of fifth-year senior face-off specialist Connor Harryman. Schoen was 11 of 14 and Ott was 1 of 6 against Army last week. 

Harryman was out for the game against the Black Knights after suffering an injury early against St. John’s two weeks ago. Harryman was named Big Ten Specialist of the Week for his performance in the home opener against Lafayette, in which he won 88 percent of his face-offs. 

There is still no word on a timetable for return from the team at press time, and it remains unknown if he will play on Saturday.

Last week’s game was the first bump in the road after a very promising start to the season. But Rutgers seems confident that it can put the loss to Army behind and take control at home against the consensus No. 1 lacrosse team in the country.

“We need to take care of ourselves,” Brecht said. “We are in control when we have the ball. We are in control when we are at home.”

For updates on the Rutgers men's lacrosse team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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