It was ugly, it came down to the wire, but Indiana got a desperately needed win over Connecticut on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City as part of the Jimmy V Classic.
The Hoosiers just edged the Huskies, 57-54, in a defensive-oriented game with plenty of sloppy play from both squads.
Indiana needed a little bit from everybody to get the job done, displaying the strength of their depth to make a balanced offensive attack. Not one Hoosier even scored in double digits, but the return of sophomore guard Rob Phinisee made all the difference.
The sophomore had missed the past four games due to injury but was reliable as ever on Tuesday. His numbers weren’t eye-popping — he recorded six points, four rebounds and two assists in only 13 minutes on the court — but that doesn’t tell the story.
Despite it being his first game in action after injury, Phinisee did not shy away from the moment. Down the stretch he hit a few clutch free throws and hit the boards hard to maintain IU’s lead.
It wasn’t a pretty offensive showing from Indiana by any means, hitting 36.8 percent of their shots from the field and only going 2-for-13 from the 3-point line, but with Phinisee on the court the offensive looked smoother with him running the show.
Phinisee’s presence certainly improves Indiana as a team, and also raises the level of depth in the Hoosiers’ rotation.
Increased depth and scoring options are what Indiana is going to need to continue to get quality wins like Tuesday’s over UConn. It is also needed to buck the negative trends of struggle in the previous years of the Archie Miller era.
The Hoosiers had to prove they could win outside of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall and under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden was the perfect place to do so. After squashing any momentum from their home win over No. 17 Florida State with a follow-up 20-point loss at Wisconsin, the Hoosiers’ legitimacy was put in question.
Connecticut may not be a ranked team, but it is a quality win against a quality opponent, nonetheless. In years’ past this is a game that Miller’s Indiana teams would typically struggle in. Tough games on the road, and road games in general, were very troublesome for the team.
In the first two seasons of the Miller era, in games away from home (including neutral site games) Indiana had an 8-19 record. Two of those games have been in Indianapolis for the Crossroads Classic.
This win is a big step forward for the team, and it ultimately shows how the team needs Phinisee as well as all 11 of their scholarship players healthy to maximize their depth and potential.