(Photo courtesy Rutgers Men’s Lacrosse on Twitter)
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Ross Scott picked up the ball on the endline with 10 seconds left on the shot clock, and Rutgers had already put in the defensive midfielders.
They were punting, but that didn’t matter to Scott. With the sharpshooting Mitch Bartolo and Ronan Jacoby keeping the off-ball defense busy up top, Scott sped past a screen behind the net, turned on a dime and his inside roll sealed the Scarlet Knights’ 12-10 win over Ohio State on Thursday night in College Park.
It was Scott’s third goal to make it 12-9 with 2:02 left. It was Rutgers’ first Big Ten Tournament win since 2016.
“It’s the first time I’ve won at this field,” Rutgers coach Brian Brecht said postgame. “So, it feels good. ”
Jackson Reid’s fifth goal with 21 seconds left made things interesting late. Big Ten Quarterfinal standout Stephen Zupicich caused a turnover on the red-hot Shane Knobloch, picked up a groundball and got it to Connor Cmiel, who hit Reid for the quick snipe. Justin Inacio (11-of-18) won the next face-off and head coach Nick Myers called timeout six seconds later. Brecht made sure his All-American Ethan Rall was matched up on Jack Myers (2G, 3A), who swept to his right hand but Rall was there to disrupt the shot and the attempt went high.
“Ethan is unbelievable. You saw what we think about him putting best on the best at the end of the game out of time,” said Brecht.
Ultimately, it was a gutsy comeback effort for the Scarlet Knights, who dominated the second half, 8-3, after trailing by three at halftime. The first half looked like an all too familiar story in past conference tournament shortcomings from a Rutgers point of view. Myers and Reid got to their spots and paced the Buckeyes to a 5-2 second quarter lead before leading 7-4 at half.
“They’re two of the best in the conference. As they go, they have success and the more pressure it puts on you,” Brecht said. “With those two getting going it wasn’t easy, but games in May aren’t supposed to be easy, right?”
While Ohio State’s mainstays helped them out to a 8-5 lead when Reid put on the brakes on the left side of GLE and finished high past Colin Kirst (13 saves), it was a fresh face for Rutgers to get them back into it. Bartolo scored all four of his goals in about a 10-minute span across the third and fourth quarters, starting with a quick release shot from distance on a pass back at the point from middie Jack Aimone.
But it was Scott with perhaps the highlight of the night with his sudden change of direction on Big Ten Rookie of the Year Bobby Van Buren behind the net and his lefty finish made it 8-7.
“He’s an amazing player, man, and an even better person. I can’t say enough about him as humble as he is and amazing of a guy he is,” Bartolo said of Scott. “He’s our quarterback for us… I’m lucky to play with him.”
Bartolo collected a pass from Knobloch to tie it 8-8, then started the fourth quarter in the same manner to take Rutgers’ first lead since holding a 2-1 advantage. Bartolo then returned the favor to Knobloch, who fired nearside to make it 10-8. Bartolo then played catch with Ryan Gallagher up top, received it at the top right wing and with a hitch got by a shortie en route to unleashing a sidearm blast past Kirst at 11-8.
Myers served up another impressive assist to answer, with middie Ed Shean dunking it home for Ohio State. Scott’s 39th goal of the year seven minutes later gave the Scarlet Knights an insurmountable three-goal lead with two minutes left and a date with the top-seeded Terps on Saturday night.
It didn’t come without the hardship in the first half, though. Most of that hardship was getting the ball past the Buckeyes goalie Skylar Wahlund, who set a Big Ten Tournament single-game record with 21 saves.
“He’s a great player. All props to him. We shot the ball hard, but maybe I think we just defaulted to shooting the ball low,” said Bartolo. The Scarlet Knights canned 8 of their 24 shots in the second half (33%) and 4 of their 23 in the first.
“At halftime we knew we weren’t playing the best game. We weren’t shooting well, we weren’t putting the ball where we wanted it to go all. We knew that if we came out and just moved the ball we have six dangerous guys on the field at all times who can hit every shot so really just comes back to trusting our guys and trying to paint the pipe and put the ball where the goalie can’t get it. ”
As a sign Ohio State wouldn’t be putting a repeat performance of their regular season display in Piscataway, Reid got things going almost immediately on a rebound off Ari Allen’s shot coming around the left side of GLE 50 seconds in. Myers then started feasting on the big-little game later in the first with back-to-back goals.
“They run invert the whole game. That’s their offense and they’re very good at it,” said Rutgers All-American SSDM Brennan Kamish, who praised Jarry Jean-Felix for helping shut down Myers and Reid down in the second half.
Ronan Jacoby (3-of-8 shooting) was a bright spot at key moments, like with 13 seconds left in the first quarter. That led to a defensive second quarter in which Wahlund shined and Johnny Wiseman’s left-handed jump shot coming around the right side of the cage made showed that all things were going the Buckeyes way.
Instead, Rutgers turned the tables and Ohio State will await their fate for at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday. Rutgers vies for their first-ever Big Ten Tournament title at 8 pm on Saturday against the undefeated hosts.