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‘We go as he goes:’ Rob Phinisee heroic again as No. 25 Indiana defeats Butler

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana guard Devonte Green picked up his dribble with two seconds remaining in a tied game. The designed play by head coach Archie Miller had blown up, and it left Green standing 30 feet from the basket.

Rob Phinisee scores vs. Northwestern. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

Without his dribble, Green sent the ball to the motioning Rob Phinisee. IU’s freshman point guard only needed one dribble to step into a 35-foot shot and convert the biggest shot of his life and defeat Butler, 71-68, in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Phinisee’s shot, released with 0.3 seconds remaining, left his head coach in disbelief, leaning against the scorer’s table for support. Miller’s drawn play to setup a Romeo Langford basket did not develop. Instead, Green was left standing still until Phinisee motioned and released the dagger.

“Obviously it wasn’t drawn up like that, but I saw Devonte holding the ball. I slid over, put it up, prayed to God it went in,” Phinisee said of the play.

“I saw a breakdown in the play we originally called,” Juwan Morgan said. “I saw him go up and make a veteran shot. Like I said earlier, they’re not really freshmen any more, as you can tell from that shot, how they carry themselves. That was a savvy move by Rob, and he knocked it down.”

Phinisee’s instant classic will overshadow a dominant performance from senior forward Juwan Morgan — who finished with a career-high 35 points on a remarkable 12-of-14 shooting from the floor. Morgan was a perfect 12-for-12 from 2-point range, and he was everything that he had to be for Indiana to escape Indianapolis with yet another resume-building victory for the 2018 campaign.

The Hoosiers (9-2, 2-0 B1G) have won four consecutive games, and have now won them by a combined eight points. All four of those wins (Northwestern, Penn State, Louisville, Butler) are Top-50 opponents according to KenPom. This Indiana team has shown early flaws, such as Morgan and Langford being the only Hoosiers in double-figures on Saturday against Butler, which will likely not be sustainable.

It was clear that Indiana did not bring its best basketball of the season to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, albeit against a tough Butler team, but the Hoosiers yet again found a different way to win down the stretch against a quality opponent.

“I just think we have a trust into each other, trust in the system,” Morgan said. “We’re all bought in. I think we’d like to get a couple, you know, wins where it’s not within the last ten seconds where we win. At the same time, you know, it’s the ones that you grind out that are the best feeling. Come March time, those are the ones you’re really going to need.”

Critical possessions, besides Phinisee’s shot, were needed down the stretch for the Hoosiers’ resounding victory to mature. Indiana led for the first time with 3:05 remaining, as Morgan converted Green’s assist down low. Butler’s Kamar Baldwin, who finished with 16 points, answered twice in the closing moments. Baldwin’s layup tied the game at 66 with 1:48 to play before a nifty Phinisee assist led to a Justin Smith dunk and subsequent 68-66 IU lead with 39 seconds remaining.

With 23 seconds to play, Baldwin’s floater high off the glass found its way through to tie the game. It was there when Miller drew up a play that Butler defended and allowed Phinisee to become the hero.

This IU program has been searching for a reliable weapon at point guard ever since Yogi Ferrell graduated in 2016. With freshman Rob Phinisee, the poise is there. The intelligent decisions and stingy defense have been there. There have been mislapses through the first 12 games of his collegiate career, but that is simply basketball. With his go-ahead 3-pointer against Louisville, Phinisee now has two consecutive game-winning shots. His head coach chalks that up as a useful personality trait for his freshman point guard.

“He’s got confidence in himself,” Miller said of Phinisee. “He’s very competitive. It’s a quiet competitiveness that he has about him that he believes in kind of he can get it done … You have faith he’s going to be able to get a stop, hang in there defensively. For whatever reason, he’s not afraid to take or make a play when we need him to.”

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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