There was 10:44 left in the second half, and the story was looking all too familiar for Indiana hosting Minnesota on at home Wednesday night.
At that 10:44 mark, Minnesota center Daniel Oturu stole the ball and put down a one-hand jam of a dunk to take the lead 52-51.
The Hoosiers were doing it again. Another stretch of lackadaisical play was plaguing them, blowing a previous seven-point lead and 8-0 run to start the second half in spite of being the game being a desperately needed win for Indiana.
Not too long after, Rob Phinisee made a game-changing play, a momentum shifting one, to swing the game to IU’s favor and propel the team to a 72-67 win over Minnesota.
Phinisee came from behind and worked through multiple Minnesota defenders to clean up a missed Justin Smith fastbreak layup by tipping it in to give Indiana the lead back. As important as it was to take the lead back in that moment, it was equally as important for Indiana to show some grit in its game.
Too often, Indiana falls into long spans of basketball with little energy which generally is followed by blown leads and lost games. Phinisee helped Indiana avoid that usual struggle with that play.
Phinisee is one of the guys for Indiana who consistently gives the team fight and energy and provides in ways that others can’t. Phinisee contributed on multiple fronts, scoring 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting with six rebounds and five assists to facilitate the offense.
In addition to Phinisee, Joey Brunk gave tremendous effort and made a big difference when he was on the floor. Brunk had the team’s best plus-minus rating of anyone for Indiana at +17.
“I thought the whole key to the game was Joey Brunk,” head coach Archie Miller said. “His impact on the game on both ends of the floor, him being able to play as many minutes as he did was huge.”
Brunk had 12 points while shooting the ball efficiently, going 6-for-10 from the field. It was his highest scoring output and first time reaching double-digits since the Michigan State game on Jan 23.
To go along with the scoring, he had eight rebounds, three of them coming off the offensive glass, giving Indiana some needed extra opportunities.
“I thought he did a better job kicking our butts on the offensive glass than anything tonight,” Miller said. “He was just quicker to balls. He was hungry to get the 50/50 long ones off of other misses.”
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On the defensive end, the junior center’s main defensive assignment Daniel Oturu did have 24 points, but Brunk made it anything but easy. Oturu took 27 shots while only making 11 of them.
Brunk’s stellar performance comes after the course of some difficulty and struggle over the previous 10 games that saw him average just 3.9 points and 2.6 rebounds per contest.
To overcome the adversity and turn in the performance he did Wednesday speaks to how IU as a team overcame some rough patches and how it should attack its own struggles throughout the season.
Additionally, by getting Brunk rolling again, it gave IU another offensive weapon it hasn’t had as of late. This only strengthens IU’s depth and options moving forward in March.
Getting the effort that Indiana did out of Brunk and Phinisee was crucially needed. The Hoosiers could not afford to lose to a Minnesota team with a losing record on their home floor.
“For us to be 19-11, 9-10 with one to go in this league, I think we’re continuing to trend in the right way,” Miller said.
The win moves Indiana closer to sealing the elusive bid for the team’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2016 but there is still work to be done.
Indiana will close out the regular season with Wisconsin at home on Saturday with the Big Ten Tournament to follow. Right now, Indiana looks to be the likely No. 11 seed in the conference tournament. This would mean opening play on Wednesday without any bye.
A win over Wisconsin would really help IU’s tournament hopes, along with a win or two in the conference tournament.
Indiana took care of what they could control though, by notching a win over Minnesota.
And for the time being, that’s all that matters.