It took the IU men’s soccer team just over an hour Tuesday night to match their entire goal total from the Big Ten Tournament. It took nothing more to dispatch of the Saint Louis Billikens to get the Hoosiers out of the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two years.
For coach Mike Freitag's team, it also marked a noticeable improvement from their hit-from-deep offensive style in the Big Ten final, which saw them try to score from range more often than not.
This time, the Hoosiers used their depth and their passing ability to control the middle of the pitch and push up the wings and into the box. It was telling that both IU goals were the product of crosses.
Having senior midfielder and captain Brad Ring back patrolling the dying tan-and-green on Yeagley Field.
Senior midfielder John Mellencamp opened IU’s account in the first half just over 18 minutes in. Crossing from about 35 yards near the right sideline, Mellencamp’s ball arced toward the Saint Louis goal. Billikens keeper Pat Disbennett kept drifting back, but appeared fooled by the flight of the ball, which curled softly into the bottom left corner of the net for IU’s first goal.
Asked after the game to tell the truth as to whether the offering was a shot or a goal, Mellencamp replied with a laugh.
"I say it was a shot, and I'm sticking to it," he said, to which Freitag cracked, "He said be honest."
“I think you guys can tell,” Mellencamp said with a wide smile, adding the goal is the longest he can remember scoring.
“You take goals like that – you need a little luck sometimes – but I think we also created a lot of good opportunities,” Freitag added, pointing to specific close misses his team put together in a game that saw IU hit 15 shots and eight on goal.
The Hoosiers controlled most of offensive play for the rest of the half, creating several other chances and keeping the Billikens on the back heel.
The second half saw more of the same early on. Still, the Billikens battled for an equalizer, and the final breakthrough wouldn’t come until the 66th minute.
Pushing down the left, the Hoosiers forced a corner. Andy Adlard swung in an offering, and junior defender Kevin Alston sailed in at the back post, beating his mark and tumbling into the goal, the ball just inches ahead.
“He said on one of the earlier corners that he was open, but the ball didn’t get there,” Freitag said Alston told him during the game. “This time he saw, and he exploded. He was good. He was like, diving into the end zone on that one.”
Mellencamp was full of praise for his teammate after the game, saying he’s not an easy man to cover on set pieces.
“Alsty’s a very gifted athlete,” the senior midfielder said, “so if you go ‘1 v. 1’ with him, more often than not he’s gonna get to the spot.”
From that point, the Hoosiers simply locked down the pitch from box to box, as Saint Louis pushed hard for any breakthrough. The Billikens more than doubled their first-half shot total (3) with seven in the second half, but neither half saw a shot on goal from the visitors.
The win erases the nightmares that followed a second-round crash against Bradley in 2007 and sets up a third-round match at home Saturday against Michigan. The Hoosiers and Wolverines have locked up twice this year, with Michigan taking the regular-season game in Bloomington and IU pulling back with a Big Ten Tournament semifinal victory earlier this month.
The key, it would seem, for the Hoosiers in that game will be keeping Tuesday's pace and presence in their offensive game.
Control the match early and often like they did Tuesday night, and the Hoosiers will come back from the holiday break just one win away from a College Cup berth. Don’t, and spending Thanksgiving away from their families will have been a waste.
“They beat us here on this field earlier in the year," Freitag said of his team's next opponent after the game, "and we’re gonna look forward to trying to change that."