BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Despite playing without All-American Mackenzie Holmes for the first time all season, the No. 1-seed Indiana Hoosiers advanced to the second round after a 77-47 victory against No. 16 Tennessee Tech at Assembly Hall on Saturday afternoon.
Shortly before tip-off, the team announced that Holmes was available to play limited minutes due to knee soreness from an injury suffered in the Big Ten Tournament earlier this month. However, Holmes didn’t play at all in the first-round matchup against a Tennessee Tech team that beat Monmouth in the First Four.
Indiana coach Teri Moren said Holmes had been day-to-day prior to Saturday’s matchup.
“She probably could have played today, but she wouldn’t have been 100 percent,” a source close to the program told the Hoosier Network. “The idea was to keep her out today and give her an extra day to recover.”
Indiana will play Miami (FL) in the Round of 32 on Monday.
Without Holmes in the lineup, the Hoosiers struggled out of the gates. The game was tied at 18 after the first quarter. However, in the second quarter, the Hoosiers pulled away, going on a 17-0 run and forcing four turnovers. Freshman Lilly Meister started in Holmes’ place, adding seven points and four boards.
Holmes, a senior post player who adds immense versatility to this Hoosier squad, has excelled in the paint this season. Holmes averaged 22.3 points per game this season and added 7.3 boards. She also shines defensively, claiming Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors after averaging nearly two blocks and a steal per game.
Holmes hasn’t missed a game since January of last season when she also suffered a left knee injury and had to get surgery. Although the Hoosiers were able to cruise past the Eagles on Saturday, her impact on this team is unmatched.
“It was frustrating, of course,” Holmes said in an interview with the Hoosier Network. “But I think it’s just understanding that we’ll be okay in this first game and working on myself to get healthy.”
She noted that the plan is for her to be back for Monday’s matchup, but “it’s a day-by-day thing.”
“In order for IU to make a deep run, they’ll need Holmes playing in some capacity,” Big Ten analyst Meghan McKeown told the Hoosier Network.
The Hoosiers will need Holmes down low to take some of the pressure off the perimeter players. The team has been fairly inconsistent from beyond the arc, so the added reliability of Holmes in the post is critical.
“Holmes is the complement to the perimeter play they need,” a Big Ten assistant coach told the Hoosier Network. “The perimeter players aren’t going to be as open or get as clean of looks as they are used to. Defensively you miss rim protection and neutralizing good post players. It’s a huge piece of comfort missing.”
Fortunately for Indiana, it seems as though Holmes’s absence won’t be for much longer. Moren said she’s “very optimistic” and “feels really good about her for Monday.”
While Saturday’s game was one that they could handle without Holmes, Monday’s matchup will be a much more daunting task.
With or without Holmes.
“It’s hard,” Holmes said. “You play all year to get to March and then have to be sidelined for that. It kind of sucked, but I think I had so much faith in our team and everyone to step up that it wouldn’t be a problem.”