BLOOMINGTON — They say the ball doesn’t lie. But they never said anything about the score.
Yes, the score can tell you how many times the ball ended up in the back of the net, but that’s it — it says nothing more.
For the No. 11-seeded Michigan men’s soccer team, Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the sixth-seeded Hoosiers is an example of just that.
The Wolverines (13-6-3) were excited to take the field against Indiana (14-6-3) in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. It was a chance to avenge their early exit from the Big Ten Tournament and advance to play St. John’s in the Elite Eight next weekend.
And for the first 30 minutes it looked like Michigan had the momentum and would accomplish both goals.
The Wolverines had two quality scoring chances within the opening five minutes, coming from senior forward Steve Bonnell and a shot off the deflection of Bonnell’s shot from redshirt junior defenseman Daniel Gray.
But Indiana scored 34 minutes into the game, and the first goal was all the Hoosiers needed.
“The first 30 minutes, the game really seemed like it was ours for the taking,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “We just didn’t take it.”
After the goal, the Wolverines’ offense struggled to find an equalizer before halftime as the momentum shifted to the Hoosiers.
During the break, Burns talked to his team about getting the ball behind Indiana’s defense so the Hoosiers had to turn their bodies and retreat. He also wanted his team’s outside backs to overload one side of the field and create problems for the Hoosier’s defense by making runs down the sides of the field.
“It is always frustrating when you are close to scoring,” senior defenseman Michael Holody said. “I just believed we were eventually going to get it.”
Coming out of halftime, the Wolverines fought hard to find a hole in the Indiana defense, remaining confident the tables would eventually turn.
“There was one point where there were 25 minutes left, and we were down one goal and I just kept saying ‘just keep pushing’…’let’s just keep going, we have 25 minutes left, there’s still a lot of time on the clock,’ ” junior forward Peri Marosevic said.
But Michigan struggled to find a rhythm early in the second half until Burns changed formations. To create more attacking opportunities and spread out Indiana’s defense, Burns moved Holody from defense up to forward.
The Wolverines immediately saw the tactical move pay off. Just a few minutes later, Marosevic had two quality scoring chances.
The first came with Indiana’s defense expecting a penalty call, but the Wolverines played through as the Hoosiers awaited a whistle that never came. Holody sent a quick pass through three defenders to Marosevic in front of the net. Marosevic got a shot off but Indiana’s goalie was there to make the save.
Moments later, Marosevic got another open shot from the right side. Looking to even out the score, he blasted the ball toward the top of the goal, but it hit the center of the cross bar and rebounded back into play before the Hoosier defense cleared it.
While the shift ignited the Wolverine offense, it also came at a cost to the defense. Indiana took advantage of the weakened backline and scored goals in the 76th and 81st minute.
“You take (Holody) out of the back and you’re definitely exposed, so we took a chance and we almost got the reward, but it stung us as we eventually pushed forward,” redshirt junior goalie Patrick Sperry said.
And while the Hoosiers outshot Michigan 18-9, the Wolverines continued to push through to the final whistle.
“I think our attack is one of the best in the country,” senior midfielder Santos Perez said. “But we didn’t convert. When it comes down to it, the team that finishes the little chances that they have is the one that comes out on top.”