For a head coach who is usually as calm, cool and collected as any you’ll find, Todd Yeagley did a whole bunch of screaming Wednesday night.
But it was the good kind of screaming, like when your team is headed to its fourth straight Big Ten Tournament finals after shutting out a bitter conference rival. Or the kind of screaming you do when your team has an opportunity to clinch a third straight Big Ten Double.
“I’m a little hoarse, so bear with me,” Yeagley said to begin his postgame press conference.
The gruff, raspy voice was certainly understandable given the celebration that ensued after top-seeded Indiana blanked No. 4-seeded Maryland, 2-0, in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
The on-field performance from the Hoosiers, though, will likely make up for whatever sore throat Yeagley wakes up with Thursday morning.
“Good performance overall,” he said. “Certainly the first half I thought we played pretty well. Second half I thought we played very well, and it’s obviously great to advance and move on.”
Indiana was fortunate to escape the first half unscathed against Maryland’s relentless attack, but the same could be said on the other end of the field, too. While both sides created several dangerous chances and forced the opposing team’s backline to stay on its toes, neither side was able to capitalize.
Though Indiana entered a scoreless halftime with a clear advantage on corner kick opportunities and shots on goal, the team’s services and finishes weren’t crisp enough to find the back of the net.
The Terrapins, who matched the Hoosiers’ first-half shot total with five, also generated a few odd-man opportunities inside the 18-yard box, but none were threatening enough to force a save from IU sophomore goalkeeper Roman Celentano. That stout defense continued into the second half as Maryland tallied six more shots, three on frame, and IU’s backline remained steady to secure the eighth clean sheet of the season.
“Just to go out there and shut them out, it felt good,” Celentano said. “They’re always going to bring their best, so to go out there and not let them score, it’s a good feeling.”
An even better feeling, however, is receiving a pair of second-half goals from IU sophomore forward Victor Bezerra to slam the door shut on Maryland for good. The two tallies, Bezerra’s ninth and 10th of the season, were all the Hoosiers needed to comfortably waltz into the Big Ten Tournament finals.
The first of Bezerra’s two goals came in the 46th minute as junior right back Nyk Sessock served a tight pass in front of the goal box which Bezerra connected on with his right foot and buried just under the top crossbar. But the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year wasn’t done just yet.
Less than 10 minutes later, the Big Ten’s leading goal scorer struck again, this time with a you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it snipe. In the 55th minute, the Hoosiers were awarded a free kick from about 25 yards out. IU junior midfielder Joe Schmidt tapped the ensuing kick back to Bezerra who unloaded a laser shot past four Terps’ defenders and off the left post to secure a 2-0 lead for IU.
“He loves the moment, he loves the pressure, and he’s only getting better,” Yeagley said about Bezerra.
Bezerra’s fourth brace of the season provided the Hoosiers with just enough padding to settle back into a more defensive-minded approach the rest of the way. With the midfield and backline dropping down a bit, ensuring Maryland’s late surge didn’t result in any ideas of a comeback, the next 35 minutes proved to be all Indiana to close out the match.
It’s not often IU victories (or shutouts for that matter) have come so comfortably against Maryland, but Wednesday night proved to be a rare exception. Dating back to 1999, the Hoosiers have posted just five shutouts of the Terrapins in 16 total meetings.
“It’s always a really good game with Maryland,” Yeagley said. “The rivalry is bigger than the conference because it was a national rival early in the time, and now it’s a Big Ten rival.”
Now, Indiana’s focus shifts to No. 2 seed Penn State, which will visit Armstrong Stadium at 5 p.m. ET Saturday with a Big Ten Tournament title on the line.
It’s been a decade since the Nittany Lions earned a spot in the Big Ten Tournament finals. This season, though, they’re arguably as good as any roster they’ve assembled in the past decade with First Team All-Big Ten selections Brandon Hackenberg, Danny Bloyou and Pierre Ready leading the way.
In what should be one of the best Big Ten matches of the season Saturday night, Indiana will need to bring the same intensity and firepower that it did against Maryland if it wants to claim a third-straight Big Ten Double.
“Right now, the guys are really really focused on getting a chance to win another title,” Yeagley said.