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Indiana knocks off Michigan State en route to outright Big Ten title

The final day of the Big Ten regular season provided everything and more with conference tournament seeding on the line.

Wisconsin defeated Ohio State to secure the No. 7 seed and avoid a play-in game against Indiana.

Penn State needed a golden goal in overtime to defeat Rutgers and cap off an impressive conference campaign. 

Michigan dominated Maryland 4-2 and forced the Terrapins into the No. 5 seed, meaning they will forfeit home-field advantage in the first round. 

Jack Maher looks on during Indiana’s exhibition game against DePaul. Maher is the lone returning starter from last year’s team. (Jared Rigdon/HN)

But the most important result came from East Lansing as Indiana defeated Michigan State 1-0 to clinch the conference title outright. 

It was the first time a Big Ten team won the regular season title outright in back-to-back years since 2006-2007.

IU came into the day controlling its own destiny. A win and the conference title would board the bus back to Bloomington. 

All IU needed on Sunday was one chance. In the 29th minute, freshman forward Victor Bezerra drew a penalty and sophomore defender Jack Maher buried it in the bottom right corner. 

By no means was it the prettiest match of the year, but it’s exactly what IU needed to take care of business. 

The offensive attack was minimized by a Michigan State team fighting for momentum heading into the tournament. But that was countered by an impressive defensive effort from IU. 

IU played conservatively in the second half with the lead in hand. It didn’t need to do too much and didn’t need to do too little. IU head coach Todd Yeagley struck a perfect balance with the substitutes and formation changes he made. 

Now, the momentum lies in the hands of IU. Since a miserable 3-0 defeat at the hands of Maryland, IU has rattled off four straight wins. In those four matches, it has outscored opponents 14-2. 

The offense is running at a pace it hasn’t seen all year. In its first five Big Ten matches, IU had 10 goals. In its last three, IU has nine. 

IU has settled into a starting lineup and rotation of bench players that it likes. A balance of outstanding freshmen with veteran players has turned the IU attack into a well-oiled machine. 

Momentum can mean everything to a team as it heads down the stretch run of the season. When the NCAA Tournament committee released its initial Top-16 rankings, IU was No. 10. As it piles up wins, it will only rise up the rankings and improve seeding for the NCAA Tournament. 

The Big Ten regular season was the first step in its journey to three titles. IU sets the goal every single year. Last year, it got the Big Ten double but fell short in its quest for a ninth national title.

Now, the Hoosiers have the first step again. The second step will run through Ludwig Field in Maryland, the site of the semi-finals and finals of the conference tournament. 

If IU wins its opening match, it will meet the winner of Northwestern/Maryland in the semifinals with a potential rematch with Penn State and Michigan in the final. 

The journey through the conference tournament will be a difficult one. But as we’ve seen before, momentum can go a long way in a program’s success.

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