Four days after Indiana’s biggest win of the season over No. 6 Maryland, the Hoosiers had the opportunity to win Big Ten Championship No. 16 to solidify a top-16 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Standing in the way was Rutgers, the two seed in the Big Ten, making its first ever appearance in the Big Ten Final since joining the conference in 2014. For reference, this was Indiana’s sixth consecutive appearance on Championship Sunday.
A 3-1 loss in Piscataway gave Rutgers its first ever Big Ten Championship in any men’s sport, and put the top-16 hopes in serious doubt, as Indiana’s RPI dropped from 14th to 19th.
Here are my three quick takeaways from Sunday:
An uncharacteristic catastrophic mistake gave Rutgers the early breakthrough
There have been only a handful times the Hoosiers have gifted the opponent a goal this season. Two of them have come in Piscataway. In the 2-2 draw in the regular season, Nyk Sessock gave the Scarlet Knights an instant response trying to do a little too much in his own box. On Sunday, Patrick McDonald gave the ball away at an inopportune time in the midfield, leading to a quick strike from Matthew Acosta less than three and a half minutes into the match. McDonald did redeem himself, scoring the equalizer later on in that first half courtesy of an outstanding corner from Ryan Wittenbrink (who else?), but the early goal gave the hosts and their raucous fanbase a dream start.
JT Harms kept Indiana in the match for as long as he could
Head coach Todd Yeagley harped on the fact that Indiana hasn’t gotten that “one huge save” this season from either Harms or Bryant Pratt. On Sunday, Harms made five saves, and most of them were Roman Celentano-esque. Here’s one in the 74th minute that kept Indiana in the match for the time being:
Yeagley made it clear after the match that Harms “is the guy going forward” given the team doesn’t want to make too many adjustments heading into the NCAA Tournament.
Indiana has been unable to put it all together for long stretches of time during the season
The Hoosiers came into the Big Ten Tournament having only won three games in a row once this season, back in September against St. John’s, No. 9 Akron and No. 20 Butler. Indiana knew winning three straight would be a daunting task considering it was the four seed, but doing so would have solidified a bye to the second round.
The game itself was very tight: Shots were 14 apiece, saves five each. Rutgers led 8-6 in shots on goal and fouls, but the match could have gone either way. An impressive Olimpico gave the Scarlet Knights a 2-1 lead, and a third came with under 10 minutes to play on the counter as Indiana pushed for an equalizer late on.
What’s next for Indiana: Sit and wait. The selection show is at 1 p.m. Monday, where Indiana will find out its fate for the NCAA Tournament. There’s a slim chance the Hoosiers do get that elusive first-round bye they’ve received each of the past eight seasons, but more than likely Indiana will be at Bill Armstrong Stadium for the final time this season on Thursday for a first-round home match.