Maryland and IU have created a recent history of bitter rivalry and close games.
Wednesday’s Big Ten Tournament semifinal provided another chapter, and when the dust settled it was No. 1-seeded IU on top, 2-0, and into the finals for the fourth consecutive season.
“The rivalry is bigger than the conference,” head coach Todd Yeagley said in a postgame Zoom conference. “It was a national rival early, and now it’s a Big Ten rival and still a national rival.”
In 2019, Maryland beat IU 3-0 during the regular season in College Park, the only game of sophomore goalkeeper Roman Celentano’s career where he has allowed more than one goal.
The two rematched in the 2019 Big Ten Tournament semifinal. The Hoosiers knocked off the Terrapins in double overtime, 1-0.
2018 was more of the same — After IU won the first two matchups of the season, including a penalty kicks victory in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, Maryland defeated IU 2-0 in the College Cup to end the Hoosiers’ quest for a ninth national title.
“It did feel good to be in control, but man I don’t really feel that until it’s really late, especially against Maryland.” Yeagley said. “If we were up three I might have felt better.”
The latest edition of the rivalry brought Victor Bezerra as the hero in IU’s tale. Bezerra scored his fourth brace of the season and second of the Big Ten Tournament to bring his goals total to 10.
Bezerra’s first goal came almost immediately after the second half began. Junior defender Nyk Sessock crossed it in to Bezerra, who popped it over Maryland’s freshman goalkeeper Jamie Lowell to open the scoring.
Less than a minute later, sophomore Ryan Wittenbrink nearly added a tally, but Lowell made a kick save to keep his team down one.
Nine minutes later, IU earned a free kick. Junior midfielder Joe Schmidt tapped it to Bezerra, who snuck it past Lowell and off the post to give IU a 2-0 lead.
“He is just different class,” Celentano said about Bezerra. “He’s just a natural player. The ball just, it’s effortless. I’m just lucky to be on the same team as him right now.”
The IU defense played to its normal strengths, relying on sophomore Daniel Munie and freshman Joey Maher to keep the pressure away from Celentano.
But Maryland’s first shot on goal, coming in the 59th minute, took the full effort of this year’s Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year — Celentano made the diving save at full extension on a Maryland shot that had a very good chance at becoming a tally.
The sophomore keeper was only tasked with making three saves in his eighth shutout of the season.
“Being focused comes through years of training,” Celentano said. “Just being ready for that first shot because it's easy when you’re in the flow of things to make the saves and stay focused.”
Maryland came into the match already depleted and their depth took another hit when freshman Alex Nitzl left the game with a leg injury. Freshman Kento Abe replaced him, making his first appearance with the Terrapins late in the season.
The Terrapins were also without their head coach, Sasho Cirovski, after the three-time national champion received two yellow cards in Maryland’s quarterfinals match against Rutgers.
Yeagley said part of IU’s game plan was to absorb pressure from Maryland during the first half.
“If we were able to get to half at zeroes, I felt really good,” Yeagley said. “I didn’t think they could maintain that, and I thought our depth would start to really help.”
IU’s depth and fitness did help, and it allowed the team to get to the half unharmed before Bezerra took charge and led IU to the Big Ten Tournament championship against Penn State.
“Right now the guys are really focused on getting a chance to win another title,” Yeagley said. “It’s hard to get in these spots and to do it at home, we just wish our fans would be there with us.”