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‘Big Shot Rob’: Phinisee propels Indiana over No. 4 Purdue in all-time classic

Streaks are meant to be snapped just like records are meant to be broken. Indiana just didn’t know when it would happen.

Having lost nine straight games to Purdue, Jan. 20, 2022 will be remembered in a number of ways. It could go down as the “Rob Phinisee game” after the senior from Lafayette scored a career-high 20 points and hit a game-winning 3-point shot. It could be known as “The game without Trayce” as the preseason All-American battled through foul trouble, playing only 11 minutes with his team still managing to emerge victorious.

In the end, it will go down as the night Indiana finally beat No. 4 Purdue in front of one of the best crowds Assembly Hall has ever hosted. The buzz around Bloomington was different this time and the outcome showed you why.

Here are five questions for us to answer after the insanity.

What if I told you before the game that Trayce Jackson-Davis would have four points in 11 minutes?

Zak: Well I would have had a sneaking suspicion that Jackson-Davis got injured, possibly dooming Indiana’s season. Then I would have told you that Purdue must have made it 10 straight victories over IU and it probably wasn’t close. The fact that the opposite occurred and IU was able to beat the No. 4 team in the country behind legendary performances from its backcourt seemed inconceivable just days ago. In the end, Rob Phinisee gave Indiana the best effort of his career while Jackson-Davis still managed to deliver the two clutchest free throws of the season.

William McDermott: I would have said Indiana must have gotten blown out. Jackson-Davis was coming off an odd back injury against Nebraska but was still good to go. Purdue’s objective was clear early — get him in foul trouble. It worked and he never had the chance to get going. Luckily for IU, the bench made me eat my words from my previous story and played phenomenal. 

What sparked Indiana’s run in the first half?

William: Robert Phinisee. The senior was just incredible. Confident and under control. I turned to Zak at one of the timeouts and just remember talking about how impressive he was in controlling the pace and flow of the game. It looked so natural. When Indiana needed a bucket early he responded. 

Zak: William tells the truth. Phinisee checks into the ball game, instantly gets a block, a steal and knocks down his first 3-pointer. William turned to me with astonishment and instantly sang his praises. He was right, as Phinisee turned the game around and would not be denied. He looked like a different player, a determined player, set on getting his first ever win over the rival Boilermakers. 

How did this game change Rob Phinisee’s legacy? 

Zak: Phinisee’s performance on Thursday night showed basketball players everywhere that no matter how poorly you’ve performed offensively in a season, one big game can change everything. His game-winning 3-pointer sealed his legacy as a clutch shot maker who stepped up when his team needed him the most. However, I do believe this performance doesn’t happen without Mike Woodson’s constant encouragement in his ear.

William: Phinisee will forever be remembered for this performance. IU fans will always remember this. Put the photos in the Louvre. He was known as ‘Big Shot Rob’ for a reason. He showed why. 

What were you thinking when Phinisee’s game winner went up?

Zak: From our angle in section K, I thought it was missing off the back rim. It didn’t look on line to me, as he was clearly off balance and fading to his right but he put enough arc on the shot to nestle it in. Phinisee showed guts taking that shot after missing a previous wide open look, seconds before.

William: My first thought was, “is this the play that was drawn up?” It was. Woodson said postgame that it was a new inbound set they just learned and it was supposed to be for Jackson-Davis underneath. Jackson-Davis was a little open but Galloway, the inbounder didn’t like the look. Phinisee, who missed the shot right before, was the second option.

Is Mike Woodson’s first season already a success?  

William: No, make the NCAA tournament. Things are looking good already but it just needs to happen. It’s been too long. This is a good start. The energy and aura that Woodson has brought to the program is something that I don’t think many saw coming. I mean, students were lined up around Briscoe right before the game. That’s like a block and a half away! All in all, make the tourney for the first time since 2016 and people will be happy. 

Zak: Call me a prisoner of the moment but yes. This team has shown that defending its home court is not just something written on the whiteboard before every game. It is part of the program’s identity now and that is all thanks to Mike Woodson. The belief he has instilled in his players has set up IU to be consistent threat in the Big Ten and singlehandedly reinvigorated a program that looked liked it had lost its identity. Of course, the tournament is what we should look at as the baseline for success in Indiana, but this win will never be forgotten and missing out on the tournament well could be.

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