All-American center Mackenzie Holmes started Indiana’s NCAA title quest on the bench.
She doesn’t intend to stay there long.
After watching Sydney Parrish score 19 points and grab eight rebounds and her replacement, Lilly Meister, add seven points and three blocks in the top-seeded Hoosiers’ 77-47 rout of 16th-seeded Tennessee Tech, Holmes said she plans to return for Monday night’s second-round game.
“It’s something we had planned for a while. We’re trying to be cautious after I got banged up in the Big Ten tournament,” Holmes said. “I’m being evaluated day by day, and so we’ve got today, tomorrow, and then we’ll see Monday.”
Holmes missed eight games last season with an injured left knee and still wasn’t 100 percent when the Hoosiers’ postseason run ended in the Sweet 16. While she acknowledged it was frustrating to watch again Saturday, the Hoosiers really didn’t need her to advance through the first round.
With Parrish playing her role, Grace Berger adding 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks, and Meister and Alyssa Geary splitting minutes in place of Holmes, Indiana (28-3) looked the part of a No. 1 seed over the final three quarters.
But the Hoosiers might need Holmes against either eight-seeded Oklahoma State or ninth-seeded Miami.
“I thought Berger was exceptional. She led in every way,” Tennessee Tech coach Kim Rosamond said. “She was just tremendous, especially in the first half.”
Maaliya Owens had 17 points and nine rebounds to lead the Golden Eagles (23-10), who had won their previous eight. They just couldn’t hold up against the bigger, stronger, deeper Hoosiers — especially in front of a boisterous crowd that topped the 14,000 mark.
The score was tied at 18 after one quarter and Tennessee Tech took a 22-20 lead on Anna Walker’s layup with 6:53 to go.
That’s when the Hoosiers flipped the game.
Meister tied the score with a layup, Lexus Bargesser broke free for back-to-back fast breaks, and when Berger made two free throws with 2:55 left in the first half, Indiana led 37-22. The Hoosiers took a 39-27 lead into halftime.
Tennessee Tech never got within single digits again.
“We’ve always called it sharing the sugar around here, and this is a team that’s unselfish, that’s balanced,” Hoosiers coach Teri Moren said after picking up her 200th career win. “This is a team that realizes it could be Grace’s night, it could be Syd’s night, it just doesn’t matter as long as we get the win.”
Whether it was the fatigue of playing seven games in 23 days, the 36½-hour turnaround from their play-in win over Monmouth or simply the disparity in talent, the Golden Eagles’ remarkable run came to an unceremonious end. But with much of the roster back from a team that made its first NCAA tournament appearance in 23 years and won its first tournament game in 33 years, Rosamond can build off the momentum of this season.
Meanwhile, the Hoosiers showed their expansive depth and just how solid this defense can play in Holmes’ absence. While the additional rest may keep Holmes healthier over the long haul, Indiana needs its best player scoring points, grabbing rebounds and creating havoc in the post if it hopes to win a national championship.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.