Rutgers welcomes 3 other Big Ten teams for conference tournament
Following last Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to No. 1 Penn State, the regular season has officially come to an end. The Rutgers men's lacrosse team was bolstered by its talent on both ends of the field, but were plagued by inconsistency and an inability to win faceoffs.
With a Big Ten record of 2-3 and an overall record of 7-7, the No. 20 Scarlet Knights now look forward to a rematch with the Nittany Lions (12-1, 5-0) tomorrow in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal game. With a 22nd-ranked RPI and a 1-6 mark against ranked opponents, the only path for Rutgers to make the NCAA Tournament at this point would be to win the Big Ten title.
Here’s who the Knights are up against:
Step 1: Beat Penn State
You know you’re in for a challenge when the first step is beating the best team in the country. That being said, Rutgers came painfully close to pulling off the upset last weekend in University Park, Pennsylvania, leading for much of the game before conceding the game-winner in the final minute.
Penn State has taken college lacrosse by storm, holding the No. 1 spot in the polls since week five. Its trademark is a high-octane offense that leads the nation with an average of 17 goals per game.
Mac O’Keefe is the go-to scorer for the Lions, currently leading the Big Ten with 51 goals on the season. Calling the shots is Grant Ament, who leads college lacrosse with 71 assists on the season.
Step 2: Beat Maryland/Johns Hopkins
If the Knights can go the distance and knock off Penn State, then they’ll face the winner of the Maryland vs. Johns Hopkins semifinal on Saturday for the Big Ten title. This semifinal is also a rematch of the season finale, as the Blue Jays (7-6, 3-2) handed the Terrapins (11-3, 3-2) their second loss of the season in College Park, Maryland by a score of 16-11 last Saturday.
Rutgers took on Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field in a hostile homecoming atmosphere. Fresh off a 14-6 upset against then-No. 4 Ohio State, the Knights opened up the game sluggishly by conceding a 6-0 run in the first 20 minutes.
Despite a late rally, Rutgers fell to the Blue Jays 15-13. If the Knights are to avoid a repeat in a potential rematch, they'll have to figure out an answer to attacker Joey Epstein, who was the No. 1 recruit in the 2018 class and scored 35 goals in the regular season.
If Maryland were to avenge last Saturday’s defeat, it’d set up a potential rematch with Rutgers with an automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament on the line.
The Knights came out swinging in the last meeting, opening up an 8-3 lead in the first half. The Terrapins took over in the second, scoring 5 of the last 6 goals to put away a 16-13 game.
Rutgers faces an uphill climb if it wants to win the Big Ten title. The regular season proves that much. But, the Knights have several factors working in their favor. They have two of college lacrosse’s best attackers in sophomore Adam Charalambides and junior Kieran Mullins.
Rutgers also boosts an elite veteran goalkeeper in Max Edelmann, and a talented backline led by Big Ten Specialist of the Week senior defenseman Kyle Pless.
Furthermore, the “neutral” venue will be HighPoint.com Stadium, and the Knights will be playing in front of a raucous crowd hungry for the first Big Ten title in program history.
For updates on the Rutgers men's lacrosse team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.
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