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No. 20 Rutgers prepares for battle against No. 1 Penn State in Big Ten semifinals

 – Photo by Garrett Steffe

The Rutgers men's lacrosse team came into the 2019 season with one goal in mind: earn the program’s first NCAA Tournament spot since 2004. 

While the Scarlet Knights (7-7, 2-3) had an inconsistent overall record in the regular season, they’ll have a chance to earn an automatic bid in the Big Ten Tournament play when they face No. 1 Penn State at Stadium in a rematch of last weekend’s matchup.

The Nittany Lions (12-1, 5-0) coasted through the regular season, with their only loss coming at the hands of then-No. 4 Yale in March. They weren’t fazed by their conference opponents, winning their first four games by an average of 6 goals. 

Rutgers played up to the level of its opposition in University Park, Pennsylvania, leading Penn State with seven to play in the fourth period. In what’s become the theme of this season, the Knights couldn’t go the distance, giving up the lead and conceding the go-ahead goal with 40 seconds in regulation. 

“I’m so proud of how our guys played (and) the opportunities that they gave themselves,” said head coach Brian Brecht. “Anytime you have some disappointment, the faster you can get back out there, (the better).”

The schedule puts Rutgers in an interesting situation. After almost beating the No. 1 team in the country, they’ll have a second opportunity on home turf. 

Having the opportunity to adjust from the first game immediately could end up being to the Knights advantage.

“Now we know what to expect,” said fifth-year senior goalie Max Edelmann. “We had a game plan going in (last Saturday), and it’s rare that you get to see the same team twice, but having the game at home and having the game film from last week is great for preparation.”

Rutgers has had trouble winning face-offs all season, with a success rate of only 43% on the year. Last Saturday was no different, as fifth-year senior face-off specialist Connor Harryman was 11 of 29 from the X against the Lions. 

Despite the face-off struggles, the Knights outshot Penn State 46 to 37. This is the only time that Rutgers put up a positive shot differential in conference play.

Another key to victory in this matchup will be to keep the Lions from controlling the tempo of the game. Fast-paced offense has been the trademark of this Penn State team, and is a big part of the reason why it lead the nation with an average of 17 goals per game. 

The Knights were able to hold the Lions to just 14 goals last time, and their defense will have to slow the game down again.

“We have a lot to focus on over the next few days,” Edelmann said. “We need to make sure that we’re clearing the ball, winning the ground ball battle and winning at the X.”

With the postseason underway, and Rutgers well out of the running for an at-large bid, it’s clear that the entire season is on the line. This year’s senior class has more wins than any other in program history, but another loss will mean that they will graduate without an NCAA Tournament bid. 

“We’ve been on the bubble for the past few seasons, so getting the win in front of our fans on Thursday and Saturday would be huge for our program,” Edelmann said. 

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

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