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Hunter and Phinisee give Indiana key production for a much-needed win

Indiana basketball is a different team when Rob Phinisee and Jerome Hunter are at their best.

Rob Phinisee during Indiana's win over Minnesota. (IU Athletics)

For most of the season, one of the two, if not both, have struggled with maintaining consistency, leaving a continual gap in Indiana’s scoring options and ultimately leading to some extra losses.

On Wednesday, the duo of upperclassmen made the difference and filled the hole in the offense, helping Indiana to an 82-72 home win over Minnesota. The win gets Indiana to 12-9 overall and 7-7 in the Big Ten.

Phinisee and Hunter are the only remaining players from Miller’s prolific 2018 recruiting class, one that has, to an extent, struggled to live up to the hype.

Hunter, a former 4-star recruit and top-100 player showed the kind of college player he was expected to be with a career-high 16 points in 19 minutes. Hunter has bounced back well from an inconsistent first half of the season and having to earn his minutes back after a coaches’ decision to bench him against Illinois on Feb. 2 for breaking team protocol.

“The thing I like about Jerome the most is that he competes every day,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said. “Right now, he’s not messing around, I think he knows that his time has come to step up and play for our team.”

Perhaps more impactful than the volume, Hunter’s baskets were very timely. Indiana had been in a back-and-forth battle for the whole game until Hunter got hot.

In back-to-back offensive possessions at the 14:32 and 13:25 marks of the second half, Hunter nailed two 3-pointers from the same spot on the wing to give Indiana a 52-46 lead and build separation from Minnesota.

His ability to get open and make the easy ones when Minnesota pressed for steals allowed Indiana to seal the win, too. Hunter accounted for six of Indiana’s final 13 points.

The redshirt sophomore’s career outing allowed Indiana to achieve a nice scoring balance among its main contributors. This included 20 from Trayce Jackson-Davis, 16 from Al Durham and 11 points from Armaan Franklin.

While smaller in quantity, Phinisee’s 10 points might have had a bigger impact than any of those figures. It was his first time scoring in double figures since Jan. 21 against Iowa when he had 18.

In the stretch between tonight and that game, the junior had been struggling mightily. He had only been averaging 3.8 points per game including a scoreless performance against Illinois on Feb. 2.

Phinisee has been a key cog in Indiana’s scoring and rotation every year of his career with the Hoosiers, when he is struggling, the team’s performance typically follows suit.

Tonight, he broke that slump, taking smart shots and going 4-of-7 from the field, leading the team with six assists, and grabbed four rebounds, too.

“Rob did what we needed him to do tonight,” Miller said. “I don’t care if he misses a shot… I just want him to be aggressive and make the right reads… in my opinion he’s been worrying about offense too much.”

With Phinisee playing steady and Hunter taking advantage of his looks, Indiana for the first time in a long time looked like a complete team.

Too often in the last few games Indiana has found its way into a double-digit hole early and has had to play catch up for the near entirety of the game. That deficiency is a byproduct of the starters and Hunter, the typical first substitution, not getting off to good starts which affects the whole game.

On Wednesday, Indiana’s starters plus Hunter did everything and more as they combined for 79 of Indiana’s 82 points. Trey Galloway was the only freshman who scored with three of his own. This was only the fourth time in Big Ten play that Indiana scored 80 points or more.

Should Indiana continue to make strides with consistent contributions from Hunter, Phinisee and the rest of the starters, Indiana will be in good position in a difficult final four games of the season that includes No. 3 Michigan and a trip to rival Purdue.

Miller attributes that the only way to continue the improving play from the core down the final stretch of the season is by continuing to practice well and intensely.

“They’re going to come back tomorrow and be ready to go,” Miller said. “That’s why this team has a chance to keep being good at the right time.”

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