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Indiana Basketball’s end of half play-calling struggles

Juwan Morgan Indiana Basketball

(Mark Timko/HN)

The unthinkable occurred last Saturday when Indiana freshman point guard, Rob Phinisee, hit a 25-foot prayer at the buzzer to beat in-state rival Butler 71-68 at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis.

Phinisee put Hoosier nation and the entire state of Indiana on notice when he hit that shot. He was deemed a hero and etched his name in the history books in that one play.

As time passes, what will go greatly unnoticed and underappreciated about the whole sequence was that the play was broken and a disaster from the start. Butler defended the play excellently. The Bulldogs prevented Indiana’s preferred options of senior forward, Juwan Morgan, or freshman guard, Romeo Langford from even getting the ball.

After inbounding to Phinisee with 18.7 seconds to go and passing to junior guard, Devonte Green, with about seven seconds left, Indiana looked dead in the water. Morgan was nowhere to be found as he was setting a screen for a stumbling Langford near the baseline.

Langford came up to the perimeter with Butler sophomore guard, Aaron Thompson, wrapping him up on defense. Green refused to send the rock Langford’s way.

Phinisee retreated from the three-point line with about three seconds on the clock, only to receive and quickly hoist up a well-contested bomb of a shot that miraculously went in as time expired.

“Give them credit, they really tried to do their best to take the ball and not let Romeo get a catch, which is what we were trying to get,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said. “Either we didn’t screen, because I didn’t see it, or it got blown up. They definitely tried to take the ball out of his hands, which it did, it happened. Devonte was stuck, didn’t panic a little bit. As the clock wound down, he kind of got rid of the ball. Obviously Rob had the wherewithal to let it go. I’d be lying if I said when he shot it, I didn’t think it had a chance to go in. I just didn’t know the time. They definitely blew the play up. We weren’t strong enough to execute it, get the ball where we wanted to. It’s part of getting better. We got to keep getting better.”

What is so fascinating about the whole situation is that Indiana finds themselves in these broken play scenarios a lot. The stunner from Phinisee, only serves as temporary cover up for a failed play. Indiana has already seen this before.

Quite often during Indiana’s tight games they don’t get the cleanest look for their last shot. This is the case for both the end of the first and second halves. It’s becoming a pretty consistent theme throughout the season.

Also, what has become consistent about these situations is that more often than not, Rob Phinisee is the one who’s getting the last look to score.

The general consensus would be to expect that the team’s top two players in Morgan and Langford would always be the guys to get the last shot, especially in close games. Thus far, that has not been the case.

In both halves against Butler, the first half against Louisville, the second half against Arkansas, and the first half vs UT-Arlington, Phinisee was the player putting up the shot before the horn.

The majority of those plays were Phinisee drives to the rim. None of them were converted either.

More interestingly, often when Phinisee would drive to the hoop in the clutch situations, there would be no other offensive move.

Against Louisville in the first half, the Butler first half, and Arkansas second half, there was no offensive motion or passes to look for an open teammate. It was all the freshman guard taking it from the top of the key to the bucket.

In both of the last possessions of the first halves of Louisville and Butler, Phinisee drove to the hoop while looking off Morgan. Morgan set brief screens and then looked for the ball around the three-point line. At the same time, the other players on the court for IU along with Phinisee and Morgan remained relatively stagnant in both possessions.

The shot against Butler at the end of the first wasn’t bad. It was an okay look for an up-and-under layup that just missed. The Louisville shot wasn’t the best, but there also very well could’ve been a foul called as Phinisee was met in the air with plenty of contact.

In the last possession of the Arkansas game, when tied at 72 with the Razorbacks, Phinisee pulled off the unusual act of showing that he was a freshman.

Rather than letting the clock wind down and giving his team the last shot attempt of the game, Phinisee drove the ball and put up a tough lay-up with about eight seconds to go.

It was a bad decision and one where Phinisee had no business even getting close to making the shot as he was met by two of Arkansas’ big men that contested the shot well.

These last shot situations are telling of a few things- strong defense from the opposing team, Rob looking off other options, and Coach Archie Miller’s confidence in his freshman point guard.

It’s not common for a freshman point guard who was outside the top 100 of his recruiting class to be the guy taking the ball in isolation at the end of games. Phinisee isn’t any everyday freshman point guard though. He has cemented himself as a great starter for the Hoosiers and proved that he has the clutch gene.

Despite those misses listed prior, Phinisee has shown time and time again that he has the ability to hit big shots in crunch time.

For example, and beyond the Butler buzzer beater, Phinisee hit clutch threes in both the Arkansas and Louisville game.

Against Arkansas with the Hoosiers down 72-69, Phinisee hit a three to tie with 46.7 seconds to go. In the Louisville game, when IU was trailing 58-57, Phinisee hit a three to give them the lead with a minute and 20 seconds left. Both shots were huge in changing the game’s momentum and giving the Hoosiers a chance to win the game.

It will be intriguing to see how the team and Miller handles close games and clutch situations moving forward. One thing is certain though, and that is that Phinisee will be up for the task if presented the opportunity to take the last shot.

“He’s got confidence in himself,” Miller said. “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….For whatever reason, he’s not afraid to take or make a play when we need him to. He’s just a solid, solid dude. He’s a good kid. Works his butt off. Hangs in there regardless of the circumstances in the game.”

His big three-point shots already made in the clutch show his talent and his misses at the rim at the end of games demonstrate his growth and learning experiences.

After what we’ve seen so far, it’s safe to say that it’s not so unexpected anymore when Phinisee is the guy taking the last shot for the Hoosiers.  The question remains around how well the Hoosiers will be able to execute in those situations.

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