When the third quarter ended, Marquette had a rain soaked 9-6 lead on the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers after scoring three goals in the final three minutes of the period.
Right at the start of the fourth quarter, Rich Rambo crushed MU face off man Paul Riportella with a crosse to the face, earning him a two minute unreleaseable penalty. On the ensuing extra man opportunity, Tyler Melnyk scored his fifth goal of the game to put Marquette up 10-6 and seemingly in full control of the game.
Aaaaaand then Rutgers went nuts. Scott Klimchak, RU's leading scorer, broke the Marquette run 90 seconds later. Well, okay, no big deal, it was going to end eventually. But with Inside Lacrosse Midseason All-American Joseph Nardella taking face offs for Rutgers, Marquette couldn't afford to get caught trying to run the clock out. Scott Bieda made it 10-8 80 seconds later, and two minutes later, it was Nick DePaolera making it a one goal game with less than nine minutes to play.
At this point, it was clear that we were going to see a bananas finish to this game. DePaolera lofted a pass to Bieda over the Marquette crease and goalie Jimmy Danaher and things were tied at 10. 11 seconds later, Klimchak gave Rutgers their first lead of the game. NINE seconds later, Melnyk found long stick midfielder Liam Byrnes to tie it back up again.
Yep, it's breaking loose in Piscataway.
Nardella won the face off and somehow Marquette survived four shots from Rutgers without allowing a goal. Then Conor Gately, who had exploded for three assists already in the game, found his shooting stroke. Gately got a 25 yard run in straight on goalie Kris Alleyne and beat him to get MU back in front. A Kyran Clarke goal just 80 seconds later gave Marquette a two goal cushion with 1:28 remaining.
Ok, just get through 90 seconds of lacrosse and we can all celebrate, right?
Two face off wins by Nardella, two goals for Rutgers. Tie game, 13-all, 47 seconds left.
At this point, dread creeped in. Whoever won the face off was going to get the last shot of the game, and Nardella had won 18 of 28 so far in the game. That *seems* like a lot, right? It's a success rate of 64%, which is actually bad for Nardella, who wins face offs at a 76% clip this season.
So, relatively speaking, Paul Riportella had Nardella's number. And he did it one more time.
Riportella won the face off and picked it up himself. MU called timeout and with 37 seconds left, head coach Joe Amplo drew it up. The ball ended up with Gately, who took another run in from the left side, starting from 25 yards out again. But Gately stayed outside instead of crashing the net this time, and beat Alleyne to the bottom corner of the net for his second goal of the game and the game winner for Marquette.
There were 16 seconds left, of course, and as this fourth quarter proved, that was MORE than enough time for Rutgers to do something. But Riportella came up huge again, focusing his effort on just not letting Nardella win instead of trying to win it himself. The clock slowly evaporated and Riportella actually ended up with the win, securing Marquette's first ever Big East victory.
I mean, WOW. If you want, you can still go watch the whole game on Rutgers' website. Skip forward to the 1 hour, 37 minute mark for just the fourth quarter.
In the process of destroying the net (literally) and Alleyne's self esteem (he had the best goals-against average & save percentage in the Big East coming in), Tyler Melnyk also destroyed the Marquette record book. His eight points were not just a career high, but a single game program record. His second goal of the game broke the single season goals record. His EMO goal to open the fourth quarter broke the single season points record. Both of these records were set last year by Melnyk himself, and it took him 13 games to do it. This was Marquette's ninth game of the 2014 season.
Because I know you're wondering: Melnyk is seven assists away from Conor Gately's single season assists record.
Marquette moves to 3-6 on the season and 1-1 in the Big East standings. They currently have sole control of the fourth and final Big East tournament slot.
STAT WATCH: All season long, we've kept an eye on Marquette's success at the face off X because last year they were really bad at it, winning just 42.9% of the time. Against Rutgers, Paul Riportella took every face off and went 12 for 30, for a 40% success rate. This *sounds* terrible. But Rutgers' Joseph Nardella is literally the best face off man in the country, coming into the game winning face offs at an 80% clip. Here's how good he is: Because Riportella held him to winning only 60% of the face offs in this game, 1) his face off percentage fell to 76.4% and 2) HE'S STILL MORE THAN SIX PERCENTAGE POINTS BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE IN THE COUNTRY.
Paul Riportella is thus awarded one (1) Sam Cassell Cajones Dance.
Turning our attention to turnovers, Marquette only turned the ball over seven times in the game. The Golden Eagles were already the 12th best team in the country at protecting the ball, averaging just 12.63 per game, so this kind of effort against a team that was getting Top 20 votes like Rutgers is fantastic. Even better, only two of the turnovers were unforced, so with 18 offensive chances in the game, that gives Marquette a rate of just 11.1 unforced turnovers per 100 possessions. They averaged 27.5 per 100 chances a year ago, so this is a massive improvement.
Up Next: We take a brief detour from the conference schedule for a mid-week home game against Bellarmine. The Knights are 4-4 on the season after losing their first four ECAC league games. Marquette's biggest win of last season came on a visit to Bellarmine, when Conor Gately beat All-American senior goalie Dillon Ward in overtime.