As the rain beared down on Bloomington during the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals Saturday, No. 1-seeded IU men’s soccer remained steady.
If IU had any rust coming off a two-week break in the schedule, it didn’t show. Instead, the Hoosiers stayed a dependable force, waiting for Northwestern to slip up on the wet turf.
And slip up Northwestern did.
“The game plan was every finish that we have, try hitting it low, use the conditions in our favor,” sophomore striker Victor Bezerra said. “We came into the game talking about ‘Let’s keep the shots low, make it hard for the keepers and the defenders to read the slickness of the grass.’”
Only six minutes after the kickoff, sophomore forward Herbert Endeley was tripped up in the box as he tried to run past a Northwestern defender. He earned IU a penalty that Bezerra kept low and didn't miss.
In a post match Zoom conference, Bezerra said Saturday was his first game 100% healthy since IU played Ohio State on Feb. 23.
Shortly before halftime, Northwestern graduate goalkeeper Ethan Bandre received a back pass from his defense, and instead of a clearance, kicked it directly to sophomore forward Ryan Wittenbrink, who put the ball in the back of the net for his fourth goal of the year.
“It was a strange first half,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said. “Weather played into that strangeness. The sun came out at one point, the rain, I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know if we’d have snow next.”
Bezerra said part of IU’s gameplan was to attack with low shots due to the wet field conditions.
In the second half, once the rain cleared up, it was the Hoosiers themselves who provided the downpour.
IU’s attack remained relentless against a largely outmatched Northwestern side. The Hoosiers had 11 shots in the second half alone, including six on goal.
In the 60th minute, Bandre slipped up again after Bezerra enticed him into a chase for a loose ball. Bandre got to it first but kicked it directly to sophomore forward Nate Ward, whose attempt at an open goal went wide to the left.
In the 73rd minute, Bezerra found the net once again after IU turned a counterattack into a goal for a 3-0 lead.
“When he’s around the 18 [yard box], you get excited,” Yeagley said. “I mean, we get excited, other teams not. Not every player that you have in your attacking half do you feel that.”
The goal was the third brace of the season for Bezerra, who was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year earlier this week.
“It’s a great honor for me to win the award, but also we come to IU for things bigger than individual awards,” Bezerra said. “We look for the team goals. That’s where my head’s at right now.”
For the second time against Northwestern this year, IU’s defense held Northwestern without a shot on goal. Northwestern’s last shot on goal against IU came on its 88th minute game winner in Evanston, Illinois, on Feb. 27.
Even without senior captain Spencer Glass, who IU lost for the season with a broken leg, the Hoosier defense remained as strong as it had all season. Sophomore Brett Bebej played in Glass’ spot as IU earned its fourth consecutive shutout.
IU will face Maryland, who beat Rutgers on penalty kicks earlier Saturday, in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday in Bloomington.