Celentano helps IU deal out St. Francis in NCAA shootout

Indiana wasn’t playing with a full deck on Sunday night.

A red card from the previous game, injuries and fatigue left the Hoosiers shuffling the deck in their second-round NCAA Tournament game at UNCW Soccer Stadium in Wilmington, N.C.

But what the Hoosiers did have was an ace up their sleeve in goalkeeper Roman Celentano.

The sophomore prevented an upset in regulation and delivered once again in penalty kicks, as third-seeded IU claimed a 3-1 shootout victory over St. Francis (Brooklyn) after the teams played to a 1-all tie through regulation and overtime.

It was something IU coach Todd Yeagley reminded his team of when the game went to overtime.

“I just pulled them in and said, ‘Guys, we’ve been in this situation. We don’t need it to be our A game, we just need to make a play.

“… If we keep it where it is right now, guess who we have? We’ve got Roman. So if we have to go 20 minutes, we’ll make a play.'”

There wasn’t a lot for Celentano to do in the opening half as the Hoosiers played with the wind at their back, but he made two saves when called upon.

Meanwhile, Victor Bezerra once again supplied the offense to give Indiana (9-1-2) a 1-0 halftime lead.

Bezerra’s goal, his 12th of the year, came on a recycled chance off a corner kick. A.J. Palazzolo tapped a pass wide to Bezerra on the left side of the box, and the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year finished his shot with a deflection off a defender in the 36th minute.

“We were starting to break them down in the second half of that first half,” Yeagley said. “We made a couple of adjustments that we trained on where to overload and create some scenarios and part of that was where we were getting (Ryan) Wittenbrink the ball and Victor.

“… We took (the wind) the first half. Knowing how they played against us, I don’t know if would do that again. They dropped really deep in that first half, more than I thought they would. That wind at our back didn’t really help us. We weren’t getting shots from distance, we weren’t getting into the final phase with enough time to get to some finishes, so the wind really helped them.”

But once Indiana got on the board, it seemed like a second goal was sure to follow.

Thomas Warr nearly doubled the lead with a bicycle kick effort less than two minutes later that sailed inches wide as the Hoosiers kept the Terrier defense occupied.

“Maybe a little dejection with the group at halftime, because we knew it was there for the taking and the wind now was at their back,” Yeagley said. “… That second goal, you could taste it, it just didn’t come. It would’ve changed the trajectory of that second half.”

Instead, the IU offense sputtered. Even when it got the ball into scoring position, the final pass or shot attempt rarely materialized.

Despite playing a double-overtime game on Thursday, the Terriers (6-1-3) were relentless in chasing the game in the second half, putting Celentano to the test.

In the 55th minute, St. Francis forward El Mahdi Youssoufi had his own bicycle kick attempt that forced Celentano into a diving save.

A free kick in the 74th minute produced the next chance for the Terriers, as Vicente Gallardo got on the end of the ball and had a point-blank look that caromed off Celentano’s legs. IU freshman Lawson Redmon then cleared the ball off the line in his first start with Joey Maher sidelined after a red card in the Big Ten final.

“We had a lot of guys in different positions that we haven’t had with (Brett) Bebej playing a new spot (at center back), Lawson Redmon’s first start, A.J. in the back, Maloune Goumballe on the backline, both left and right,” Yeagley said. “We just tried to pull it together and find a way.”

It seemed like Celentano just might be the best way for Indiana to dodge the upset bullet, but even the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year had his limits.

In the 78th minute, a long ball over the top found Youssoufi on a counter behind the defense, and he beat Celentano one-on-one for the equalizer.

From there, Indiana simply survived to the end of regulation as the Terriers ultimately built a 10-6 edge in shots and 5-1 in shots on goal.

“They were really into we want to make a statement mojo,” Yeagley said. “Our team had the equal opportunity to go through, and our guys played hard, but there was a real just something underneath that team that they squeezed everything they had out of them, which is why they made the game really difficult at times for us.”

Yeagley got his charges calmed down ahead of the two 10-minute, golden-goal overtime sessions, and the first OT was relatively quiet.

But another strong push from St. Francis in the second overtime built their advantage in shots to 15-7.

However, going to penalty kicks gave Indiana a chance to play its ace.

“When we got to penalties, we have Roman, so we’re in a good place,” Yeagley said.

Warr got things started with a make, and Celentano followed with a save.

Joe Schmidt had his PK saved, but Celentano matched it.

Victor Bezerra converted, as did Youssoufi, leaving Indiana with a 2-1 edge after three rounds.

The fourth round began with a make by Wittenbrink, and when Celentano smothered another St. Francis shot, the Hoosiers were off to the round of 16 and a date with Marquette, a PK shootout winner over Loyola Marymount, on Thursday.

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