On it’s home field at Highpoint.com Stadium on Thursday evening, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team faced its last stand. The fate of the season hung in the balance as the Scarlet Knights took on the top ranked team in the country, Penn State, in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Just give days earlier, Rutgers held a one goal lead late in the fourth quarter against the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley, before failing 14-13. Unfortunately, the rematch was a much different story and after the first quarter, it wasn’t close at all. The season is over for the Scarlet Knights after suffering an 18-6 defeat to PSU.
It was tied at 2-2 late in the first quarter, but Penn State then scored six unanswered goals before halftime. It was a huge hole to fall into and ultimately too much to come back from. Rutgers couldn’t capitalize from a 18-6 shot advantage in the first quarter, scoring just twice. They couldn’t keep up that pace and Penn State outshot them 16-5 in the aforementioned second frame.
The bleeding got worse in the third quarter, as PSU held a 16-6 shot advantage and extended its lead to 15-3 before the teams traded goals down the stretch. The final score was 18-6.
The Nittany Lions dominated the game in every facet, holding a 45-26 advantage in ground balls and won 15 of 25 face-offs. They were also 5 of 5 in man up opportunities, while Rutgers was 0 for 2.
Penn State was led by its two stars, as Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Grant Ament scored 4 goals and had 3 assists, while, Mac O’Keefe had 3 goals and added 1 assist. TJ Malone scored 4 goals of his own.
Ryan Gallagher led the scoring for Rutgers with 3 goals and added 1 assist. Adam Charalambides scored 2 goals, while Kieran Mullins was held to just 1 assist. Defenseman Kyle Pless scored the first goal of his career. In the net, senior Max Edelmann made 13 saves.
The blowout loss, the second worst of Brian Brecht’s eight year tenure as head coach, marked the end of a disappointing season for the program. Rutgers was ever so close to beating top ten teams this season in Syracuse, Maryland and Penn State, holding leads against them all in the fourth quarter. Early season defeats to Army and Lehigh hurt as well. For a program that just missed the NCAA Tournament the previous three seasons, there will be no bubble watch this weekend. Rutgers finished the season with a 7-8 record, its first losing campaign since 2015.
Despite the disappointment, Head Coach Brian Brecht remained upbeat about the program and its future. “Our team was a bit of a work in progress all season. I think we were certainly a better team at the end of the year than where we started”, said Brecht. He continued, “the leadership of our captains helped us develop towards the end of the year. Even though we were playing some of our best lacrosse of the season coming into this game, we didn’t play our best today. There’s no guarantees when you step on that field. We always want to be the best that we can possibly be. We want to compete for Big Ten championships and NCAA berths, that’s certainly our goal. We lost 11 impact players on game day from last year’s team to graduation, so we had a newer team this year than we’ve had in the last three seasons. We upgraded our schedule and we still were here in the postseason competing in the Big Ten Tournament tonight. Our expectations are to play in the month of May and play in the postseason. We’ll continue to attract and develop high-end student-athletes that are going to have great careers here with a lot of success.”
The good news is Rutgers will return its top six point leaders from this season. Charalambides, who scored third most goals in a season in program history this year with 47, has two years of eligibility remaining. Mullins has one year left. The duo both made First Team All-Big Ten this season. Tommy Coyne and Ryan Gallagher have two years remaining as well. Owen Mead has one year left and David Sprock has three. The six players combined for 222 points out of the 276 for the entire team, which is 80% of overall production.
The defense will need to be rebuilt, with goalie Max Edelmann, the Big Ten’s Co-Specialist of the Year and First Team selection, as well as Second Team All-Big Ten defenseman Kyle Pless, graduating. Top face-off specialist Connor Harryman is done as well.
As for the present, the NCAA Tournament drought remains at 15 seasons and plenty of work is needed ahead of next season.