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Jack Maher converts penalty, sends Indiana to Big Ten Tournament final

COLLEGE PARK — Early Friday morning, IU head coach Todd Yeagley asked his penalty-kick takers to write down how confident they felt in taking a penalty shot if the moment arose.

Sophomore defender and captain Jack Maher wrote “I’m going bottom left and I’m scoring a goal”, folded up the paper and handed it back to Yeagley. 

Spencer Glass played a pivotal role in Indiana’s dominant attack against Maryland. (Jared Rigdon/HN)

Later Friday night, Maher stepped to the spot after a Matt Di Rosa handball gifted IU a penalty kick in the 104th minute. He looked at the ball and knew where it was going.

Bottom left and in.

Maher’s goal gifted IU a 1-0 victory at Ludwig Field in College Park to send it to the Big Ten Tournament final Sunday afternoon against Michigan and ensure IU a chance to play for the Big Ten double for the second straight year.

“It’s one of those moments where you just try and live in the moment,” Maher said. “I just dreamed about it and it ended up happening. I try to visualize that kind of stuff and I was confident about it.”

Friday’s match lived up to the hype and more. After getting embarrassed at the hands of the Terrapins less than a month ago, IU faced questions on how composed they would be a second time around.

IU answered the bell from the get-go to the tune of 21 shots. It won 11 corners thanks to the play of veterans like defenders Spencer Glass and Simon Waever as well as young talent like forward Josh Penn. 

Yeagley watched film after the first match with Maryland and realized IU could have more space down the flanks if it advanced the ball. To fix that, IU allowed Glass and Waever to play up in attack and off the backline. 

Not only did that throw off Maryland’s fullbacks, the DiRosa brothers, but it allowed IU to open the space in the midfield for guys like Penn, forward Joris Ahlinvi and midfielder Aidan Morris. 

Ahlinivi has struggled with injuries all season but seems to be in his best form as IU heads into the stretch run. Having him in the lineup makes IU’s offense even more electric and gives Yeagley more options off the bench.

“He can change the game with his dribbling and movement and just take guys out of the game,” Yeagley said. “He created two or three of our best attacks by just dribbling or breaking off the line. He’s got something special and we’re happy to have him in the mix and available to us.”

It was fitting that on a night where IU dominated the midfield and controlled the possession for a majority of the game, that the match would be settled by one small mistake. 

If not for the play of Maryland’s goalkeeper Niklas Neumann, IU might’ve had a three or four goal lead. Neumann stood on his head in net all night, knocking away each chance that IU threw at him. On any other night, this performance makes headlines. But Friday was IU’s night.

“He was good, excellent,” Yeagley said. “All night. He really made a difference.”

Friday’s win secures a spot in Sunday afternoon’s Big Ten Tournament title against third-seeded Michigan. It marks the second straight year the two programs have played in the final, with IU winning last year’s match 3-0.

“We expect it and wanted to do it all year,” Glass said. “Now, it’s just another game for us. 

Neumann made the right read on Maher’s game-deciding penalty-kick. But it didn’t matter. Maher knew exactly what was going to happen.

Bottom left. And he scored. 

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