After this team has shown itself at its worst in recent games, Saturday it showed up as its best.
The same drastic change occurred with Indiana guards Rob Phinisee and Devonte Green. The Maryland and Northwestern games were total nightmares for the team, and that frustration was particularly felt by Phinisee and Green.
On Saturday, that narrative changed as Indiana picked up a monumental 66-54 win over No. 11 Ohio State at home to improve to 13-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten. Phinisee and Green’s impact was a major reason for Indiana getting its first win over Ohio State in the Archie Miller era.
“This league is too impossible to go through and not have some ups and downs,” Miller said. “I thought we got our head out of the mud after Wednesday (the Northwestern game).”
The two guards switched roles as Phinisee started his first game of the year over Green and Green came off the bench for the first time since early December.
Phinisee, a usual starter from a year ago, found his stride early on as he hit his first shot attempt — a 3-pointer from the top of the key — to open up the game for Indiana. The play exuded his confidence in the sophomore’s first start of the year and he followed it with two more made 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the game.
Phinisee finished with 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting from the field, seven rebounds and four steals. Compare that performance to his past four games and Phinisee looks like a totally different player. In that previous four-game stretch, he only combined for seven total points, two steals and accounted for eight turnovers.
“He’s a warrior, and he’s stuck with it through the hard times,” Indiana forward Justin Smith said about Phinisee. “He was due for one of these games. He came out hot, and that really set the tone for the rest of the team going forward during the game.”
Someone’s awake this morning ? pic.twitter.com/XsOloSPelt
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) January 11, 2020
Green, like Phinisee, stepped up during the adversity faced from the past few games’ struggles. It’s uncharacteristic to be a senior and team captain and get benched midseason as well as not playing in the final 11 minutes of the previous game due to bad performance.
“The game never changes,” Green said. “I mean, some days it’s good, some days it’s bad. And you’ve just got to bounce back from the bad ones.”
Green played against Ohio State like none of the struggles even happened. The senior had a team-high 19 points to go along with five rebounds and really found his rhythm in the second half, going 4-for-4 from the field and 2-for-2 from the 3-point line.
Just like Phinisee, Green’s recent performances were nothing like Saturday’s, only scoring one point against Northwestern and having minimal impact against Maryland yet having an inflated stat line due to 13 garbage time points.
The silver lining comes down to the reality that Indiana is a much better basketball team when its guard play is clicking. In its 16-point loss and collapse at Maryland and the narrow home escape over a 5-9 Northwestern team, Indiana simply could not make shots, especially from the outside, and had no real offensive flow.
The post play was decent in both of those games and was the best offensive weapon the team had in those games. Without making
jumpers and moving the ball, both primary responsibilities of the guards, Indiana is at best a lackluster team, and it showed in the past two games.
Saturday, Phinisee directed good ball movement, the team hit half of its 3-point attempts and showed a competitive offensive identity. In addition, Green hit some timely shots to score eight of Indiana’s last 14 points that sealed the deal and allowed the Hoosiers to avoid another late game breakdown.
Phinisee and Green’s contributions led to a result that puts a different outlook on Indiana’s immediate future and season outlook. The two provided what the team had been missing offensively, in addition to solid team defense, good post play and plenty of hustle to make a complete team effort.
The win Saturday spurned the narrative that Indiana’s season was starting to collapse in the same fashion last year’s team did in January. This double-digit win and second victory over a ranked team put life back in the season.
“I’m happy for our team,” Miller said. “Sometimes in this league it just becomes such a slugfest. You need a jolt of energy, we got a good jolt of energy.”