Riding a five-game losing streak and coming off an overtime loss at Penn State, the Michigan men’s lacrosse team entered Saturday’s game against Rutgers with hopes of changing the narrative of its late-season collapse.
But it fell short once again.
The Wolverines’ performance against the Scarlet Knights furthered the storyline of inconsistent play that has buried the team in each of its six consecutive losses.
Despite a six-goal campaign in the fourth quarter to put Michigan (7-6 overall, 0-4 Big Ten) within striking distance, the Wolverines ultimately failed to overcome their early-game struggles in a 13-12 loss on Senior Day to No. 7 Rutgers (11-2, 3-1).
“I wish we would come out (strong) at the opening whistle,” Michigan coach Kevin Conry said. “That’s really the message — we know we can do it, but we’re not doing it in the first 30 minutes. This is another week that we come into the locker room (at halftime) with a deficit of five goals. We have to improve with our offensive production in the first half.”
Mirroring last week’s first-half struggles against the Nittany Lions, Michigan could not find consistent success on offense for the first 30 minutes of play against the Scarlet Knights.
The Wolverines struggled to create separation against a relentless Rutgers defense that ranks No. 1 nationally in clearing percentage and No. 12 in forced turnovers per game. And when they were able to find space, their shots were often just off the mark.
“For us, it was timely mistakes,” Conry said. “Timely mistakes and just some shooting, we didn’t really follow the shooting game plan all the time, and we gotta be better at that.”
For the second week in a row, sophomore short-stick midfielder Justin Brown provided one of Michigan’s only sources of offense in the first half, netting two unassisted goals. And while the Wolverines’ offense faltered, the defense rallied to put three long-pole goals on the board — one apiece from junior Ryan Schriber, sophomore Jack Whitney and graduate student Jackson Zaugg.
“We got a big lift again from Justin Brown who kind of carried us in the first half,” Conry said. “And then we started to wake up through transition, we scored those couple long-pole goals, those were big — we had three long-pole goals, that’s part of our identity.”
Junior attackman Josh Zawada — who leads the team in goals and points this season — added another goal midway through the third quarter, but the Scarlet Knights consistently responded to each Michigan spark with goals of their own.
When it looked like the momentum might be swinging in the Wolverines’ favor — particularly after Michigan scored three-straight goals in the third quarter to cut Rutgers’ lead to three — the Scarlet Knights pulled away again. After three quarters of play, Rutgers led by a score of 11-6.
But the Wolverines looked like a completely different team during the last 15 minutes of play. The offensive unit came alive, scoring five unanswered goals to spearhead a late comeback attempt with the help of Michigan’s strong defense, which held Rutgers to just two goals in the fourth quarter.
“Eventually we got going and we were rolling there for a bit which was cool to see, but we just waited too long,” sophomore attackman Michael Boehm said. “You can’t do that in the fourth quarter against any Big Ten team and expect to win. We were right there at the end, it was just too late.”
Sophomore attackman Isaac Aronson set the resurgence in motion with a goal just over a minute into the final period. Freshman attackman Ryan Cohen followed suit with back-to-back goals before senior faceoff specialist Nick Rowlett — who dominated at the dot all game, going a combined 21-of-30 with sophomore Justin Wietfeldt — netted his first goal of the season to bring Michigan within one.
Junior midfielder Jake Bonomi knotted the game at 11 with 9:26 left in regulation. His goal capped off a six-minute stretch where the Wolverines used textbook team play to give them an opportunity to take the lead.
Rutgers tacked on another goal that Bonomi equalized once again with his second game-tying goal, but the Scarlet Knights scored the game-winner with 3:44 left. Michigan had a few chances to tie it up for a third time but was unable to capitalize on the opportunities.
“We wait too long against a good team and they’re gonna make us pay,” Boehm said. “You get to close games and those little things, even in the first half. You can lose a game in the first half, it doesn’t just happen in the fourth quarter.”
Heading into its final regular season game before the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan will have a few more opportunities to turn the page on its late-season skid. That being said, time is certainly running out.
If the Wolverines can finally play a full 60 minutes of consistent lacrosse, they might just be able to break the streak.
But at this point, after another loss, Michigan still isn’t there.