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<p>Sam Sarver walks down the field during Indiana&#x27;s exhibition win over DePaul in 2022. (HN photo/Max Wood)</p>
Sam Sarver walks down the field during Indiana's exhibition win over DePaul in 2022. (HN photo/Max Wood)

‘Let's not get caught up in the score’: Missed chances define Indiana’s 3-0 loss to No. 2 Kentucky

Indiana held an 8-6 shot advantage, some of which were off-target headers from corner kicks and throw-ins

Indiana midfielder Patrick McDonald stomped his right foot once, and then again a few seconds later on the edge of the corner-kick marker. He wanted a strong foundation for his right foot, before his left launched the ball into the box. 

McDonald held up both arms, took a short run up and flung his left leg forward. 

Samuel Sarver's leap positioned him well above the cluster of players standing in front of the goal. McDonald's placement on the field was perfect, though the ball floated a bit high, challenging Sarver to direct the ball downward. 

Sarver's header sailed over the crossbar, and with it, one of Indiana's best chances of the night — only in the third minute too. Had Sarver's shot powerfully struck the back of the net so early into the contest, Indiana might've carried its early lead into an upset victory. But, roughly an hour and a half later, the scoreboard read: No. 2 Kentucky 3, Indiana 0. 

"I thought Sammy's, just that first one of the game... it's not an easy header, but that's inside three yards," Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley said postmatch. "He just got underneath it a little bit, and that changes the whole game, right." 

Indiana's 16 consecutive home-match unbeaten streak had just been snapped. In addition, Saturday night was the team's first shutout loss of the season — and the first time since the end of August that Indiana had allowed three goals in one match on its home turf. 

Which match was that? The 3-3 draw to then-unranked Portland, when Indiana led 3-2 at halftime, and coughed up an additional goal in the second half. Headlines read missed chance after chance in that second half. And, like Saturday night, Indiana struggled to convert on eight corner kicks, and a few other Nyk Sessock throw-ins toward the box. Ryan Wittenbrink’s and Joey Maher’s back-post headers both went above the net, similar to Sarver’s. 

The result was Indiana's first shutout loss at home since Sept. 3, 2021, against Creighton (fittingly also a 3-0 loss). That's hard to swallow. But still, Yeagley remains optimistic. After all, Indiana performed well enough to create so many set pieces to begin with. The team just lacked that final punch in the attacking third. 

"I like where we are," Yeagley said. "Tonight, (we) didn't convert. But if we continue to serve like that, and challenge, good things will happen. Second ball didn't fall for us tonight. Maybe the next game it does (and) the game changes." 

Yeagley began Saturday night's press conference by stating that the message to his team was to hold their heads high. And, that it was one of the strangest matches he's ever witnessed in his coaching career. To Yeagley, the performance did not warrant a 3-0 loss. For the most part, Kentucky didn't pose much of a threat, except for some quick transition moments. 

"Final third was a little bit off; credit to them, they're good," Yeagley said. "Stats can be misleading, but the game felt like it was tight. And it was. But then you look at the stats. You got every margin, and you just don't usually see (a) 3-0 scoreline. So it was more or less, let's not get caught up in the score." 

As Yeagley continued to point out, a top-5 loss wouldn't considerably hurt the team’s resume. Certainly, Indiana had more to gain from a win. But most of all, the shutout loss didn't affect conference standings, as Indiana is still in the hunt for the title (still needing favors from other teams). 

But until Indiana's final conference match against Maryland at the end of October, possibly the title-deciding game, two more non-conference games sit on the team's schedule. 

And perhaps experiencing the shot-to-goal conversion plague before facing Maryland may not be the worst outcome. The three matches in which the Hoosiers heavily struggled to place their shots on goal in goal, including Saturday night, are quite spaced out on the schedule: Aug. 30, Sept. 23 and now, Oct. 22.

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