The Rutgers men’s lacrosse team went to the Big Ten Tournament needing at least one victory to solidify their NCAA Tournament hopes. They faced a tall task against regular season conference champion and #2 ranked Maryland. However, after leading the Terps in the fourth quarter less than a month ago in a game that ultimately ended in a one goal defeat, the Scarlet Knights had another chance to produce a statement victory. Unfortunately, Rutgers was unable to sustain a strong start and fell to Maryland 12-9 on Thursday in the Big Ten semifinals.
After Jules Heningburg tied the score at one, this goal from Casey Rose gave Rutgers the early lead in the opening quarter.
Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Michael Rexrode forced a turnover soon after and the Scarlet Knights were well into the flow of the game.
After Maryland tied it up, Rutgers took a 3-2 lead behind the first goal of junior Brian Eletti’s career.
It continued to be a back and forth affair and the Terps actually took a one goal lead early in the second quarter. However, the Scarlet Knights stormed back behind goals from Christian Mazzone and Connor Vercruysse to take a 5-4 lead with 6:50 remaining in the first half.
Unfortunately Maryland tied up just 11 seconds later and Rutgers never lead the rest of the game. After giving up three straight goals and the end of the second frame, the Scarlet Knights went into the locker room trailing 7-5 at halftime.
After the break, they made it a one goal game behind a score from captain Austin Divitcos, just his second of the season.
The next seven plus minutes was scoreless as both teams battled to take control. Maryland was able to step up with two goals just over a minute apart, giving them a solid 9-6 lead.
Tommy Coyne scored for Rutgers late in the third quarter, but Brian Brecht’s team was unable to sustain any momentum. Vercruysse scored the last two goals of the game and his final score cut Maryland’s lead to 11-9 with 7:49 remaining in the contest.
Alas, a comeback wasn’t in the cards and Rutgers watched their NCAA hopes likely slip away. Vercruysse lead the Scarlet Knights with a hat trick, while Heningburg scored a goal and had two assists. Six other players each scored one goal. Rutgers held a +4 turnover margin but again struggled with faceoffs, winning just 10 of 24. Goalie Max Edelmann delivered his ninth double digit save performance of the season, saving 11 shots in the loss.
#11 Rutgers is now 9-6 and after entering this week with an RPI ranking of 13, they really needed to win this game to have any real hopes for the NCAA Tournament. While it’s still possible they could earn at at-large berth, it’s unlikely. If there aren’t any upsets in other conference tournaments and all of the favorites earn automatic bids, it’s possible Rutgers sneaks in with an at-large berth. However, they are now 2-7 against Top 20 teams in the RPI rankings. We won’t declare the season over quite yet and will update the Bubble Watch over the weekend ahead of Sunday night’s selection show.
Update: As of Saturday morning, College Crosse is projecting Rutgers as the last team IN the NCAA Tournament. Read about the scenarios and what still needs to happen here.