BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – There was no doubt that Victor Bezerra was the best player in the Big Ten this season, and he's been even better so far in the postseason.
Bezerra, a sophomore forward from Chicago, scored both goals Wednesday night as No. 3-ranked Indiana dispatched longtime rival Maryland 2-0 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals at Bill Armstrong Stadium. He also scored twice in Indiana's 3-0 win over Northwestern in the opening round, and his four tournament goals are the most ever for an Indiana player in the event.
The goals, scored early in the second half, were both beauties.
Bezerra’s first goal came just after halftime. Junior defender Nyk Sessock nailed a perfect cross it in to Bezerra, who blasted it in mid-air over Maryland goalkeeper Jamie Lowell.
Nine minutes later, Indiana earned a free kick just outside the 18-yard box. On a set piece, unior midfielder Joe Schmidt tapped the ball about 5-feet to the right, and Bezerra drilled a low shot into the left corner that Lowell couldn't get to. Bezerra now as 10 goals on the season.
“He is just in a different class,” Indiana keeper Roman Celentano said of 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 two teams were fairly even throughout the first half, with both sides getting some good looks but neither scoring. That's been typical of this rivalry through the years, dating back to even before Maryland joined the conference eight years ago.
“The rivalry is bigger than the conference,” Indiana coach Todd Yeagley said afterward. “It was a national rival early, and now it’s a Big Ten rival and still a national rival.
Yeagley said he was impressed with how much energy Maryland played with early. Be he also knew Indiana had a decided edge with depth, and that would be an issue at some point.
Bezerra's first goal gave Indiana the edge they were looking for, and they continued to pile on throughout the second half. Yeagley was impressed with how well his Hoosiers controlled the game in the second half
” “It did feel good to be in control, but man I don’t really feel that until it’s really late, especially against Maryland.” he said. “If we were up three I might have felt better.”
Top-seeded Indiana (9-1-0) will play No. 2 seed Penn State in the conference championship game on Saturday in Bloomington The matchup will be the seventh between the two programs with the tournament crown on the line. IU is 4-1-1 in the previous six games.
Celentano got his eighth shutout of the season and 16th of his career, but it wasn't easy. He made a diving save to his right in the 57th minute to refuse Maryland's Brayan Padilla of a goal, and had another key save in the 67th minute to deny Padilla once more.
This is Indiana's fourth straight championship match, the second-longest streak in school history. Indiana played for six straight titles from 1994-99.
The title game will be televised on the Big Ten Network Saturday at 5 p.m. ET.