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‘We can’t get stops’: Indiana looks to tighten defense against North Alabama

Two games into the regular season, and Indiana holds two wins by double-digit scoring margins over Western Illinois and Portland State.

Rob Phinisee looks on during Indiana’s 85-74 win over Portland State. Phinisee continues to work his way back and has shown drastic signs of improvement in IU’s first two games of the year. (Bailey Wright/HN)

Next up on the schedule is North Alabama, which Indiana hosts Tuesday night. North Alabama enters the matchup with a 1-1 record in only its second season as a Division 1 program. Last year, the Lions went 10-22 and lost in their first game of the Atlantic Sun tournament.

The Hoosiers will look to keep up their winning ways, but there are certainly some areas where Indiana needs to improve in by the time they reach the main competition of their schedule.

The biggest area of struggle thus far has been a typical strength of Archie Miller coached teams: defense. Following the win over Portland State on Saturday, Miller expressed his displeasure with the current state of the team’s defense.

“If we don’t get our defense going in another direction here, we’re going to experience some really hard moments in games,” Miller said. “We can’t get stops.”

Indiana’s defense particularly struggled against guarding Portland State’s backcourt. The Vikings’ Holland Woods and Matt Hauser gave the Hoosiers quite the challenge on Saturday. The duo combined for 48 of Portland State’s total 74 points and were efficient doing so. The two shot a combined 55% from the field and were 8-for-14 on their 3-point attempts too. Past Holland Woods, the next leading scorer for Portland State had 10 points.

Indiana’s guards — Rob Phinisee, Al Durham and Armaan Franklin — played a little loose on the ball defensively, and that is what exposed them on Saturday, according to Miller.

“I would just say in general we don’t have the toughness or the pressure on the ball right now that we’re going to need,” Miller said.

Collectively, the entire team struggled with playing tight defense without fouling. Portland State went to the line 32 times, which was twice more than Indiana, while shooting a slightly better percentage than the Hoosiers did as well.

Miller also drew issue in the team’s lack of energy on defense, forcing very few takeaways and not protecting the rim as well as he would have liked.

“You kind of look at our deflections, we only had four steals, only four blocked shots,” Miller said. “Not a very active defense right now. That’s going to have to pick up.”

The lack of blocks could have been attributed to the Hoosiers not playing much of big men Joey Brunk or De’Ron Davis in the second half, going small to matchup better with the tempo and press of Portland State. At the same time, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Justin Smith are both good post defenders in their own right.

The immediate response and major help to Indiana’s defensive ailments moving forward is a recovering Phinisee. After being sidelined in practice for almost the entire month of October with injury, he is showing that he is getting closer and closer to 100% and back to being the defensive specialist that he is.

Phinisee asserted himself a year ago as a staunch, on-ball defender. Having him back in full health could lead the way in righting the ship on defense as a team for Indiana.

He has progressed in minutes played every game thus far, from playing under 20 minutes against Gannon in the exhibition and Western Illinois to 26 minutes against Portland State. Should he keep progressing as he has, it’ll be only a matter of time before Phinisee is back in the starting lineup.

Miller said that Phinisee is still rusty at times and that he is playing more in the games right now than he is in practice, but he is making his game time count and contributing just as he was prior to being hurt.

“Defensively you saw glimpses,” Miller said of Phinisee’s effort. “When we needed to get some things done, he was really able to sit down and guard. When you get in tough ones, you’re going to go with the guys that have been there. Rob has been there.”

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