Despite an inability to find the back of the net, the No. 18 Michigan men’s lacrosse team looked like it could hold its own against a Big Ten powerhouse in No. 9 Rutgers. With three minutes to go in the first half, the Wolverines were down just 3-0.
However, the game quickly unraveled. The Scarlet Knights scored five goals in the final three minutes, heading to the locker room with an 8-0 lead, which proved to be detrimental to Michigan as it fell, 16-8. Just as it did against No. 3 Maryland last weekend, Michigan dug itself a massive hole due to a lack of ball security and poor transition defense. The Wolverines turned the ball over 14 times, with seven of the giveaways coming before halftime.
One particularly woeful sequence played out with 2:50 remaining in the second quarter. Scarlet Knight Kieran Mullins, who scored eight goals in the contest, scored on a transition chance to put his team up, 4-0. Just eight seconds later, Mullins struck again, racing up the field after a faceoff win and rifling a shot to deflate a Michigan team that had looked full of life just moments earlier.
“Rutgers, they go in spurts, and when you give a team, and such a talented team, opportunities like that, it can fuel their fire,” said Michigan coach Kevin Conry on Rutgers’ finish to the half. “They’re a very emotional team, and so they kinda felt their mojo going.”
The Wolverines didn’t fare much better after coming out of the locker room, with Rutgers scoring two more goals in the first 37 seconds of the third quarter to extend the lead to 10-0.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t come out of the locker room and hold off that blitz anymore,” Conry said.
While the game’s outcome was virtually decided at halftime, Michigan managed to find some bright spots in the game’s final frame, with freshman Kevin Mack and Alex Buckanavage spurring the offense late to lessen the deficit to eight.
“That’s who we are,” Conry said. “Those last 10 minutes, that’s the team that we know and love, and has potential to be a pretty special group.”
While the Wolverines showed promise with their late run, the team’s struggles with ball control and ball movement still remain a lingering issue, and Conry knows that Michigan must cut down on errors in one of the nation’s best conferences.
“If you make mistakes, the teams are gonna make you pay,” Conry said.
If Conry’s squad plays the way it did in the fourth quarter, the team could be the first in school history to clinch a berth in the NCAA Tournament. If the Wolverines play the way they did in the second quarter, though, this could be yet another season where fans wonder what could have been.