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‘Rob just came in ready:’ IU’s Phinisee seizing early opportunities at point guard

Indiana’s Rob Phinisee vs. Montana State. (Mark Timko/HN)

As was Indiana’s dominant 80-35 victory against Montana State, November games against severely inferior opponents are always challenging to evaluate. Everything must be taken with a grain of salt — from holding Montana State to 35 points and a shot clock era Assembly Hall record, to high-flying dunks from Romeo Langford and Justin Smith.

There are early indications, however. And two games in, Indiana’s brightest indication could very well be the play of freshman point guard Rob Phinisee. 

As junior Devonte Green recovers from the rust of a preseason thigh contusion, Phinisee has started his first two collegiate games at point guard. After a six-point, five-steal, and five-assist debut vs. Chicago State, Indiana’s 6-foot-1 freshman played significantly more aggressive in Friday night’s win. In 26 minutes, Phinisee finished with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting and only allowing one turnover.

“I feel like Rob, out of all the freshman, besides Romeo, just came in ready for college basketball,” De’Ron Davis said. “His body is real good. He’s mentally tough and smart on the court and makes good passes, good decisions, and he just encourages us on the court. He talks, so honestly, I feel like he steps into his role with Devonte being hurt pretty well and I think he’s seizing his opportunity.”

Potentially even more important were Phinisee’s looks from 3-point range. A season ago, Indiana shot 32.2 percent from 3-point range — 307th in the nation. On Friday against Montana State, Phinisee was 3-of-4 from long distance. When he was open via Montana State’s zone, he did not hesitate to pull the trigger. It’s an early indication, granted, but Phinisee appears capable to improve Indiana’s 3-point shooting from a year ago.

IU head coach Archie Miller said postgame that he does not expect Indiana to “shoot a ton of threes,” nor does he feel like the Hoosiers should. For Miller, a contested 3-pointer is the last resort offensively. Indiana shot 6-of-21 from distance Friday, and Miller feels many at the end of the first half were ill-advised. The Hoosiers will not rely upon 3-point shooting to win games in 2018-19 on the sole promise of their strength inside. Indiana outscored Montana State 48-18 inside the paint — with Juwan Morgan spearheading the effort with a game-high 14 points and 11 rebounds in just 22 minutes.

“Rob is a good shooter,” Miller said of Phinisee postgame. “He’s going to take advantage of the quality ones when he’s open. We have confidence in him … Devonte basically has only been back for a week and has to get his feet under him in games and will be better. Phinisee obviously is a good shooter … But we don’t aspire to take a ton of threes. I don’t think that’s this team’s niche but I do think if we take the good ones, we’ll make them.”

Soon enough, Phinisee will face high-major opponents in Marquette on Wednesday and Arkansas later this month before Big Ten play begins. As Green continues to recover from a slight injury hiccup, Phinisee’s minutes could decrease in favor of IU’s more experienced option at point guard. But for now, just two games into his collegiate career, Phinisee appears confident and poised to contribute as a freshman in the Big Ten.

“I’m still learning,” Phinisee said. “I learn from our older guys like Juwan and the captains, Zach. Just keep doing what I’m doing and I feel like I’ll do a lot better.”


News & Notes: 

  • Indiana freshman Jerome Hunter is expected to miss a “significant stretch” due to a leg injury, Miller said postgame. He described the injury as “not a typical leg injury,” and Hunter will be evaluated on a to-be-determined basis.
  • De’Ron Davis, however, says he feels “pretty much 100 percent” as he finalizes his recovery from a torn achilles suffered last season. Davis played 11 minutes against Montana State on Friday and is full-go in practice.
  • Zach McRoberts has been dealing with back tightness for the better part of four weeks, Miller said postgame. McRoberts did not play in the second half due to rest.
  • Meanwhile, Al Durham made his season debut after missing Indiana’s exhibition game and opener against Chicago State. Durham tallied five points in 15 minutes.

Teddy Bailey

I am a senior from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, studying in IU’s School of Global and International Studies. Prior to joining The Hoosier Network, I spent two seasons covering IU Athletics for the Indianapolis Star alongside Zach Osterman after becoming the Sports Editor of the Indiana Daily Student as a freshman. While I found myself studying Italian in Florence this past summer, I interned with The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2017 — my hometown paper. In case you want to talk cheesesteaks or the Philadelphia 76ers, you can find me on Twitter, @ByTeddyBailey.

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