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As Indiana season hits ‘pothole,’ frustration must turn to leadership

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Rebound after rebound bounced off of a number of Hoosiers’ hands and back to Ohio State. Every time Indiana made any sort of small run, the Buckeyes grabbed an offensive rebound or knocked down a three, leading to a 68-59 win Saturday afternoon.

As all of these rebounds got away from Indiana, sophomore point guard Rob Phinisee looked frustrated. At times he looked irritated. He was doing his part offensively, but his teammates couldn’t get rebounds.

Archie Miller looks on during another Indiana road loss at Ohio State. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

Wednesday night was not a good night for anyone in the backcourt. Phinisee himself was 0-for-6 and did not score in Indiana’s 64-49 loss at Penn State. Saturday was different. Phinisee knocked down an early three, as well as another one in the first minutes of the second half. He scored 11 points and added three assists.

Even with a solid game from its point guard, Indiana looked lost, and Phinisee looked frustrated. Archie Miller has always talked about how rebounding needs to travel and how IU has to be the more physical team. Indiana was outrebounded by seven, more specifically by seven on the offensive glass, leading to eight second-chance points for Ohio State.

“The physicality of our team has taken a real drop,” Miller said. “Our interior defense, offense, ability on the glass, those things have to be intact for us to be successful and they’re not right now.”

So where do you turn when rebounding no longer travels? What about when your frontcourt isn’t winning the battle down low?

It starts at the top with a point guard who has a command of the offense. Whether his frustration is a good thing or a bad thing isn’t important. It’s the fact that Phinisee is showing emotion, something this team has lacked a lot on the road. It’s something that Miller is still searching for.

“You look for emotion, you look for anything to get your players stirred up,” Miller said.

After the game, Phinisee pinned a lot of the poor defense on him. Ohio State dominated with its inside-out approach, working either through Kaleb Wesson or through drive-and-kicks. The Buckeyes tallied 19 assists, including four from Wesson.

“I feel like it’s on me,” Phinisee said. “I gotta guard the ball a little bit better.”

Phinisee wasn’t the only player who played well offensively. Devonte Green had a team-high 13 points and Jerome Hunter knocked down two more threes in route to a nine-point outing. However, the quiet frontcourt is an issue Indiana has been unable to overcome.

Indiana hasn’t attempted more than 20 free throws in a game since Jan. 11. That’s the same Indiana team that at one point in mid-January led the nation with over 26 free-throw attempts per game. That average is slowly declining, taking only 28 in the past two games combined. Miller said after the Penn State loss he “has no idea” what is leading to the decline in attempts.

The backcourt has been the hotspot for scrutiny throughout this season. The inconsistency of Green and Al Durham drives fans crazy and the lack of leadership at the point from Phinisee has led to plenty of frustration. On Saturday, we saw frustration from Phinisee himself.

Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s just a point guard being frustrated with his bigs for not grabbing the rebound. Or maybe the body language Phinisee showed in Saturday’s loss is a sophomore realizing it’s time for him to step up as more of a vocal leader. Miller said he’s not worried about poor body language from his point guard. With the co-captains so inconsistent at times, maybe it’s time for Phinisee to be that leader this team desperately needs, especially on the road.

“To me, in situations like this, you know the players, they need to hear each other more than they need to hear me,” Miller said.

There’s no quick fix. Miller said Indiana’s season has hit a “pothole.” But amidst another lackluster performance on the road, a fire was lit in Indiana’s starting point guard. Heading into a much-needed week off, maybe he can take that frustration from this road loss and turn it into leadership the Hoosiers desperately need from their point guard.

Austin Render

I am a sophomore from Fort Wayne, Indiana majoring in Sports Media. Last year I worked with IUSTV Sports doing recap and feature packages for IU field hockey, women's basketball and baseball. I am one of the current WIUX Co-Sports Directors. I am a student broadcaster for WIUX as well as Big Ten Network Student U. You can reach me at austinrender99@gmail.com and you can follow me on Twitter @austinrender.

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