Despite All-American senior forward Mackenzie Holmes sitting out due to a knee injury, No. 1 seed Indiana women’s basketball defeated No. 16 seed Tennessee Tech University 77-47 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday. With the win, Indiana advances to the second round and will face No. 9 seed University of Miami on Monday in Bloomington.
Coming into Saturday’s game in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Holmes had started all 30 games for the Hoosiers this season, but due to knee soreness from the Big Ten Tournament last weekend, she was relegated to the bench against Tennessee Tech. Although she went through warm-ups and was dressed and available to play, Holmes wasn’t needed as her teammates stepped up and Indiana cruised to a 30-point win.
After the game, head coach Teri Moren said she is “very optimistic” that Holmes will play in Monday’s second round matchup.
Replacing Holmes in the starting five was freshman forward Lilly Meister — who made her first career start and logged a career-high in minutes. Meister has consistently been the first post player off the bench this season, though coming into the game, she had only registered three games with double-digit minutes due to Holmes’ high usage.
Meister admitted there were some nerves as she was introduced and prepared for her first career start, but said she forgot about the fanfare and pressure and just focused on the game once it started
“It's a little nerve-racking, but this is the best atmosphere ever,” Meister said. “It's March Madness, packed Assembly Hall — that's crazy. So, it was a little nerve-racking, but once the tip went off, it was just another game.”
Meister was clearly unphased by the bright lights from the jump, scoring Indiana’s first points of the game with an and-1 layup, which she converted.
In addition to Meister helping replace some the interior production — particularly on the defensive end where she had three blocks — it was Indiana’s other All-American in graduate guard Grace Berger who stepped up on the offensive end.
While Indiana struggled to find its form early on — ending the first quarter tied at 18 points apiece and trailing Tennessee Tech by 2 with 7:30 left in the second quarter — it was Berger who kept the offense flowing and the game close. By the end of the opening frame, she already led all players with 9 points, three boards and two assists. No other Hoosier at that point had made more than a single shot.
Trailing by 2 points to a 16-seed and with Berger on the bench catching a breather, Indiana needed a bucket. It found it in Meister, who caught the entry pass and maneuvered through a double team for a layup to tie the game up. The lead wouldn’t last long though, as Tennessee Tech junior forward Anna Walker’s pump fake got Meister out of position and allowed for an easy layup with the shot clock winding down.
Meister came right back again, putting in another layup off a good pass from a driving junior guard Sydney Parrish. The next Eagles possession, she grabbed the rebound off the miss and quickly passed it off to start a fast break.
Meister’s play sparked what would end up being a 17-0 run for the Hoosiers, after which the Eagles never again threatened the lead. Nearly all the points on the run came the same way it started, in transition off an outlet pass from a rebounder.
Following the run, the Hoosiers continued padding their lead as the game wore on, primarily thanks to lockdown defense which held the Eagles below 22% shooting and 12 points from Parrish in the second half.
Neither Meister or Berger dominated the end of the game through scoring — the pair combined for just 4 points across the final 20 minutes — but the contributions of both to distribute for teammates and make life difficult for their matchups on defense helped the Hoosiers close out the win.
With the first-round victory, Indiana advances to the second round of March Madness for the fourth straight tournament. It will face No. 9 seed University of Miami on Monday in Assembly Hall with a Sweet Sixteen berth on the line.
Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree), columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) and photographer (.@alexpaulphoto) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.