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Twice as nice: Indiana basketball upsets No. 6 Michigan State again in 2019

Rob Phinisee runs the offense for Indiana in its win over Marquette. (Josh Eastern/HN)

It felt like endless ball screens were being set for Michigan State guard Cassius Winston.

Indiana guard Rob Phinisee knew when he got the assignment of Michigan State’s best player, he would be getting bumped and bruise for the entirety of 40 minutes. Down the stretch, and throughout the game, the ball was in Winston’s hands. And possession after possession, Phinisee, the freshman, was there to hound the Spartans’ best scorer by fighting over ball screens and pestering the junior point guard.

When the game came down to the final possession, it was Phinisee, the gritty freshman, against Winston, the crafty junior. And it was the freshman that won the battle and Indiana that won the war, beating the No. 6 Spartans for the second time this season, 63-62.

“Coach was on me all week in practice,” Phinisee said. “So the big thing was ball screens, just fighting over, and the bigs did a good job sticking and helping plugging, so it was really a team effort.”

And as IU coach Archie Miller put it after, the last play summed up the entire game for Phinisee.

Tthe last possession was very fitting for Rob,” Miller said. “That’s the guy that we all saw very early on in his career was going to be a special type of a player, and the way that he guarded in that last situation, it can’t get any better. If he would have made the shot, he would have made it over a challenged guy in his face. But luckily it rimmed out for us, and the horn sounded.

Indiana won the game with its defense. The Hoosiers scored 15 points off 14 Michigan State turnovers, scored 15 points on fast breaks and had 10 second chance points. They also had 15 offensive rebounds, 10 more than Michigan State and outrebounded the Spartans, one of the best rebounding teams in the country by one. Coming into Saturday’s game, the Spartans had only been outrebounded four times, but one of those instances was to the Hoosiers.

But if it weren’t for Indiana’s defense, its offense would have been hampered. The Spartans also had just one offensive rebound in the second half.

“We had some defense to offense,” Miller said. “We started to get some opportunities in transition. I mean, if you look, I think they had 14 turnovers, but we ended up having 10 steals in the game. 10 steals is a lot of steals in a game, and those steals I thought got us out in transition, especially late in the game when we were getting defensive rebounds and we were stopping them.”

On a day where only two Hoosiers scored in double figures, Indiana got its main contributions from its third and fifth leading scorers in Justin Smith and Devonte Green, respectively. Smith scored Indiana’s first five field goals and finished with a game high 23 points. Green, on the other hand, scored 13 and came up with clutch shots down the stretch. The duo was a combined 6-of-11 from behind the arc.

Without Smith early and Green late, the result may have been very different. But with Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford combining for just 16 points, other guys had to step up.

“The other guys, they stepped up today,” Miller said. “Devonte and obviously Justin had really big games. Devonte hit some really big shots for us in the game to keep us hanging around, hanging around. You know, some other guys obviously didn’t get as many minutes here today, but I just thought the way that Justin was playing, he was a guy that was going to be out there quite a bit today with the way he played.”

The trend is that it could not have just been Smith’s 23, Green’s late heroics or Phinisee’s hounding defense on Winston. It had to be all three, plus a lot more, including Morgan’s game high 11 rebounds to earn another upset over Michigan State. And as Miller said, something has changed with this Indiana team as it basks in the glory of two straight ranked wins for the first time since 2016.

“Our confidence is definitely up, and I think we needed that moving forward, and I think it’s big for us,” Green said. “But like Justin said, we’re just moving on to the next game.”

I am a senior from Seattle, Washington majoring in Media. I am formerly of the Indiana Daily Student where I covered Indiana men’s soccer team and women’s basketball. You still can find me broadcasting for WIUX Student Radio and on BTN Student U outside of The Hoosier Network. Former intern at 710 ESPN Seattle and broadcaster for the Falmouth Commodores. Email: Follow me on Twitter: @JoshEastern.

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