Experience and leadership propel Indiana to first-ever win at Maryland

  • 02/01/2024 8:09 am in

At the end of the third quarter, Indiana gathered in a huddle near the bench. As usual, Teri Moren sat with her players in a semicircle with a whiteboard and marker in hand, ready to coach them into the fourth quarter.

The huddle was quiet except for one voice. Everyone listened intently because it was the voice everyone knew to listen to. It was the voice that isn’t the loudest in terms of volume but is often the most impactful in terms of what it says.

It wasn’t Moren’s voice, though. It was Chloe Moore-McNeil.

“Chloe just told them that we were going to stick together and stay connected, we had to get stops, we were going to win the game,” Moren said. “I just listened.”

Indiana held a somewhat tenuous nine-point lead over Maryland after the third quarter despite leading by as much as 23 points in the first half. The Terrapins were fighting back, and the Hoosiers knew they needed to stay connected and trust each other to hold their ground and walk off the floor with a win.

Moren knew it, too, so she didn’t feel the need to talk. She knew her veterans knew what they had to do and understood how important it was to let them lead the way. That’s exactly what they did.

“Quite frankly, it was Chloe that put us all at ease,” Moren said.

At the same time that Moore-McNeil was reassuring her teammates, Mackenzie Holmes and Sara Scalia were firing everybody up. The two headlined Indiana’s 87-73 victory against the Terrapins — the Hoosiers’ first-ever win at Xfinity Center in College Park — by scoring 23 and 22 points, respectively, but also by their ability to be the leaders players of their caliber are expected to be.

Indiana knew to expect a fight Wednesday night. Maryland has a rich history of success, and everyone knew Brenda Frese and her team wouldn’t go down easily, no matter the scenario. So, while the Hoosiers went into halftime with a comfortable 52-30 lead, they knew the game was far from over.

“I think we were all on edge knowing that they were going to be aggressive and we had to be able to handle it,” Moren said. “I think it helps when you have an experienced team. There’s no doubt about it.”

Holmes, who was consistently double-teamed and trapped in the post as she is almost every game, fought through defenders and walked away with her sixth double-double of the season after scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Scalia took advantage of wide-open looks on the perimeter to score 22 points on 4-of-8 shooting from deep. Together, the two accounted for just over half of Indiana’s points, showing both their offensive prowess and their teammates’ trust that when they got the ball, they would score.

“As a post player, you’re only as good as your guards,” Holmes said. “We have a lot of great, unselfish guards that are constantly trying to get the ball inside to me, and I think they trust that I’m going to make the right decisions.”

No guard had more confidence in Holmes Wednesday night than Lexus Bargesser, who fed the All-American in the post throughout the night.

The sophomore, starting in her third straight game in the place of an injured Sydney Parrish, had one of the most well-rounded nights of her young career with nine points, six assists, two rebounds and two steals in 31 minutes.

“We needed her to be aggressive, drive, make plays and I thought she did a really good job of that,” Holmes said.

Young Hoosiers like Bargesser are being called upon more and more to produce on both ends of the court as the season progresses — and injuries arise — and they’re proving they can do just that. Bargesser’s confidence has noticeably improved since the beginning of the season, and for good reason. The sophomore averages almost three assists per game, is a consistently staunch defender and can hit midrange shots with the best of them when she’s in a rhythm.

Where does that confidence come from? Herself, of course, but also from her teammates believing in her. Such is the case for all of the Hoosiers, no matter their experience level. That’s because even players like Scalia and Holmes need support sometimes. And that’s where it all comes back to Moore-McNeil.

“Chloe’s been a really good leader for us throughout the entire year,” Scalia said. “She’ll calm us down in moments when we need it, but then she’ll also get on us when we need to get stops and stuff like that. I think it really just comes down to — I mean, experience helps us a lot — but we also have really good leaders on this team that keep us at ease when things get a little crazy.”

Indiana’s win was, relatively speaking, not very crazy at all. The Hoosiers held the lead for the full 40 minutes and led by double-digits for the majority of the game. They adapted to the Terrapins’ strategy and capitalized on weaknesses to put together a well-rounded and historic road win.

Moren recognized the feat of defeating Maryland in College Park as special. But the game was also special because it demonstrated how well-connected and well-led her team is. And at the end of January, that’s exactly the kind of team Indiana wants to be.

(Photo credit: IU Athletics)

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