BLOOMINGTON – Forgive Indiana basketball opponents for having Return of the Jedi on their minds.
Why? With the return of Grace Berger to the Indiana Fold from a knee injury, the Hoosiers’ battle station is back in full swing.
That’s an ominous prospect for the Big Ten, and so was it for No. 9 Maryland during his visit to the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Thursday.
No. 6 Indiana showed all its firepower, and while things weren’t always straight for the Hoosiers, Indiana demonstrated their class at both ends of the floor with a 68-61 win.
Sydney Parrish led Indiana (15-1, 5-1 Big Ten) with 18 points. Mackenzie Holmes scored 15 points with 10 rebounds. Yarden Garzon had 11, including two key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
The highlight of the evening, however, was Berger’s return home… She returned to the game after eight games on Sunday at the Northwestern, but it was the first opportunity for the adoring Indiana fans to greet her.
When Berger injured her knee against Auburn in Las Vegas on November 25, there was an open question as to whether she would play again at Assembly Hall this season.
She was greeted with a huge ovation when she was introduced, as well as satisfaction from her teammates.
“It’s really something special. Grace means so much to us and to the Hoosier Nation in general. She worked so hard to get back on the pitch. To see them out there is very special,” said Holmes.
The Terrapins certainly felt the power of mercy. Berger’s influence was never more felt than when Maryland hit back to level the contest 50-50 with 6 minutes and 12 seconds left.
By the time Maryland tied it, Indiana had not scored on 13 of 16 possessions. The solution was clear. Give Berger the ball.
She kicked it to Garzon for a tied 3-pointer at 5:44. After a miss in Maryland, Berger found Parrish under the bucket for a back down layup at 5:22.
After another Maryland miss, Berger called her own number with a 15-footer. Indiana went from a difficult position to a 57-50 lead at 4:42 that rocked the 5,789 fans at Assembly Hall.
Indiana’s lead peaked at 59-50, and the Terrapins never regained possession of the lead. Berger finished with 11 points and eight assists.
“Grace makes everyone better and we all feel good with the ball in her hands, especially in those moments. She was able to find measures that would give us different options,” said Indiana coach Teri Moren.
Berger had four fouls back then, but there was no thought of getting them out to save them. The time to save the game was right then and there.
“There’s a high possibility that she’s making the right decision in those moments,” Moren noted. “We are all thrilled that she is back.”
Until the Maryland fourth-quarter rally, the Indiana defense dominated the competition. After a wide-open first quarter in which Maryland converted 61.5% of the field to maintain a narrow 20-19 lead, the Hoosiers’ defense closed.
Maryland (13-4, 4-2) was handicapped on 10 of his first 12 possessions in the second quarter. The Hoosiers used a 12-3 run to take a 31-23 lead, and the Hoosiers maintained that eight-point lead at halftime.
Indiana kept up the defensive pressure in the third quarter, forcing seven turnovers during that period to keep Maryland’s excellent offense under wraps. Maryland shot just 24% in the second and third quarters, but Indiana’s lead never grew more than 10 as the Hoosiers also struggled offensively.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Maryland’s top scorer Diamond Miller finally went untraceable. She scored 12 of her best 19 points in the fourth period, including the game-changing layup.
Then it was grace time.
“It’s a load off our shoulders,” Parrish said of Berger’s return. “We trust Grace in many different ways and she can do many things with the ball in her hands. Having her on the pitch makes things easier and her confidence shines through.”
Indiana continues its home swing, hosting Wisconsin on Sunday.