Rutgers forward Ola Maeland cartwheeled into a backflip, and then hugged nearby teammates, as the scoreboard changed to 2-1 in the 53rd minute.
The impressive acrobatic celebration corresponded with the Norway native's remarkable goal moments prior with the help of the wind, scoring an Olimpico — an unassisted corner kick carefully bent into the net. Indiana forward Luka Bezerra leaped to head the ball away, but the ball narrowly flew past.
"It's a great corner kick, but that was certainly wind-aided," Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley said postmatch. "The timing of both JT (Harms) and Luka on the back post was affected by that. And they might say the same for our corner that was able to travel to Pat (McDonald)."
Ryan Wittenbrink's set piece from that same corner flag in the first half lofted above every player before finding McDonald at the back post, who guided the ball toward the net. The ball deflected off a Rutgers defender and then crossed the goal line. The play wasn't marked an own goal, but rather a missed opportunity to clear the ball.
McDonald's second-career goal served as Indiana's lone score Sunday afternoon, falling in the Big Ten Tournament championship match 3-1. The Hoosiers would have claimed their 16th Big Ten Tournament title but yielded in the finals for the second consecutive season. Meanwhile, Sunday was Rutgers' first-ever appearance, and first Big Ten Tournament title since joining the conference in 2014.
Indiana goalkeeper JT Harms compiled five saves throughout the match, a season-high against conference opponents, yet couldn't survive Rutgers' relentless attack. In the 73rd minute, Harms ranged to his right to ward off a near-point-blank strike in the box. The superb save kept the score 2-1, and had Indiana made a comeback, that play could have been the turning point.
"It was nice to see JT come up with a couple big saves," Yeagley said. “I think that's a really important takeaway."
Instead, the Scarlet Knights resurfaced for the dagger 11 minutes later. MD Myers, the conference-leading goal scorer, passed to an unmarked Ian Abbey in the box for the relatively easy score. Myers had won the ball one-on-one at the near wing before finding an incoming Abbey.
Yeagley said Indiana knew Rutgers excelled in transition, and the head coach was right. Less than five minutes into the match, McDonald's stray pass turned the ball over at midfield, and Rutgers marched into the box to take an early 1-0 lead.
After conceding early, Indiana settled in defensively and created a few quality offensive opportunities. Yet, Sam Sarver's point-blank header drifted wide and Wittenbrink's distanced strike bounced off the post. And when the teams switched sides at half, Indiana faced the disadvantage of playing into the wind. Second-half chances were slower, and easier to defend. Indiana players struggled to weave the ball through Rutgers' blockade of players and goalkeeper guarding the goal line.
"When you're trying to get some shots with a packed-in defense, it's difficult because the wind’s not at your back, so you have to put a little bit more on it," Yeagley said. “Things can get held up in the winds, so it's easier for the keepers and defenders to kind of judge crosses."
Yeagley did recognize that Rutgers faced the same obstacle in the first half. And looking at the scoreline, it's noteworthy that Rutgers scored two second-half goals to Indiana’s zero. Indiana's lone goal partly resulted from the favorable side of the pitch.
Both teams finished with 14 shots, and Rutgers held an 8-6 shot-on-target advantage. That's quite an even statline, though Rutgers possessed more clinical finishing — unsurprising for a team that scored the most goals in the conference.
Indiana entered Sunday's match ranked No. 14 in RPI and fell to No. 20 after the loss. Therefore, the Hoosiers will likely miss out on a top-16 bye in the NCAA Tournament selection Monday afternoon. But still, Indiana has secured a spot. And, the Hoosiers defeating top-10 Maryland en route to their sixth straight Big Ten Tournament finals appearance signals a potential NCAA Tournament run.
"(The locker room) was quiet and sad," Yeagley conveyed. “But still, we have to get them ready for the next one. And that's all you can do. In the world we live in, the next one is the one.”