Phinisee’s buzzer beater lifts IU to 71-68 win over Butler

INDIANAPOLIS — Juwan Morgan got him first.

Morgan stood on alert inside the door to Indiana’s locker room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, water bottle in hand, waiting for the first sign of Rob Phinisee.

Moments earlier, Phinisee had supplied the dagger in No. 25 Indiana’s 71-68 victory over Butler at the Crossroads Classic, and Morgan was ready to pounce. So were the rest of his IU teammates, who converged on Phinisee as he entered the locker room and drenched the freshman point guard in a Dasani shower. Morgan poured his water bottle over Phinisee’s head, as did De’Ron Davis and so many other Hoosiers, who jumped and hollered in a circle around Phinisee as the freshman bobbed in the middle, soaking in every drop.

This was a moment to savor.

That’s because for much of Saturday’s showdown with the Bulldogs, the Hoosiers didn’t appear on course to celebrate anything.

Outside of Juwan Morgan’s career-best 35 points, very little went IU’s way — much of it by the Hoosiers’ own doing. There were careless turnovers and team-wide struggles to secure contested rebounds. There was a shortage of secondary scoring, and sloppy defensive rotations that allowed a hard-nosed Butler team to get what it wanted.

There were a lot of things that went wrong for IU on Saturday.

That is, until Phinisee wiped the slate clean with a clutch 3-pointer as time expired that gave Indiana its fourth consecutive victory — the latest in a string of wins by a single possession.

“Our guys, for whatever reason, they just keep finding a way to muddy it up,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “However many games it’s been now in a row, seems like we’re in those huddles feeling the same way every game. They have a confidence about each other. Sometimes it’s a different guy. Sometimes it’s the same guy. … Rob, obviously, will be the hero with the game winner.”

Phinisee, indeed, was the hero on Saturday, salvaging something from a final set that didn’t go as designed.

After Kamar Baldwin’s hook shot tied the game at 68-68, Miller called a timeout with 18.7 seconds left to diagram a final play. Miller wanted to run something familiar — an action that would’ve gotten the ball to Romeo Langford in his sweet spot at the top of the key, giving him the time and space to drive downhill and create something with his right hand.

But Butler denied any passing lanes from developing, with guard Aaron Thompson sticking to Langford and preventing any opportunity for Devonte Green to hand off the ball.

With 2.4 seconds remaining, Green had to do something — anything — before the buzzer sounded. That’s when Phinisee charged from the wing toward midcourt and accepted a pass just in front of the center circle. As time expired, Phinisee lifted his shot into the air.


“Obviously, it wasn’t drawn up like that,” Phinisee said, “but I saw Devonte holding the ball. I slid over, put it up, prayed to God it went in.”

When it did, Phinisee’s teammates mobbed him on the court, thanking him for delivering a win that didn’t appear to be coming. After the mob dispersed, Phinisee composed himself and conducted a quick postgame interview with CBS Sports. When that was finished, an IU athletics staffer escorted Phinisee to the stands opposite the IU bench to introduce the freshman to Keith Smart, who was among the many Indiana luminaries in attendance.

It would’ve been a special moment, a public meeting between two Hoosiers who’ve authored big shots — only Smart and others had already made their way into the bowels of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

There, the celebration continued.

“Just a heck of a college basketball game,” Miller said.

It was a game closed down by a heck of a freshman in Phinisee.

Saturday was the latest example of Phinisee’s penchant for big plays in big moments. It’s a recent run that started on Dec. 4 at Penn State, where Phinisee led a resurgent second-half effort with 12 points and a last-second deflection that sealed IU’s 64-62 road victory.

Last weekend against Louisville, Phinisee gave IU its first lead on a 3-pointer with 8:27 to play, then hit the go-ahead 3 with 1:25 remaining to propel the Hoosiers to another notable non-conference victory.

Then, there was Saturday in Indianapolis.

“He’s got confidence in himself,” Miller said. “He’s very competitive. It’s a quiet competitiveness that he has about him that he believes he can get it done. Early in the game, I got him a quick blow. I thought he was a little bit jittery with the ball to start. As the game goes on, you start to go with him. You have faith he’s going to be able to get a stop, hang in there defensively. For whatever reason, he’s not afraid to take or make a play when we need him to. He’s just a solid, solid dude.”

Otherwise, it was mostly uneven performance from the Hoosiers, who would’ve been in trouble without the play of Morgan. Every time Butler made a run, Morgan was there to will Indiana back.

His 35 points came on 12-of-14 shooting, and Morgan also hit four 3-pointers and added seven rebounds, buoying an IU offense that struggled to find traction until late.

“If he’s hitting 3s, he’s a real problem,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said. “We know how good he is inside. He got a lot of work done in there, as well. … I think it was just his competitive will.”

IU needed every bit of that effort from Morgan. Langford only had one shot across his first 10 minutes on the floor — a stepback 3 that didn’t fall. The Hoosiers trailed 38-34 at halftime, at which point Morgan (18) and Langford (seven) combined for 25 of the team’s points.

By the time Phinisee hit a 3-pointer two minutes into the second half, he became only the third Hoosier to record multiple field goals in the first 22 minutes of play.

The combination of IU turnovers (15) and Butler 3-pointers (10), made it a difficult day for the Hoosiers.

Then, IU once again demonstrated its ability to deliver late in close games.

“The thing that you got to hang your hat on at the end of the day is your defense can hang in there when things aren’t going well,” Miller said. “When things have not gone well for us, we have not quit. Just stuck with it. Not that you’re perfect, but you’re at least hanging around, keeping yourself in it. If you look at the last 12, 16 minutes, I don’t know what the score was, but started to really consistently get some stops.”

The Hoosiers used an 8-0 run to get within 61-60 with 6:30 left, narrowing its deficit to a point on a drive by Langford. The Hoosiers then went three minutes without a basket, only to give up a 3-pointer to Sean McDermott ahead of the final media timeout. McDermott hit six 3-pointers and finished with 20 points for Butler.

Morgan tied the contest moments later at the line, then gave IU its first lead at 66-64 on a layup with 3:05 to play.

After Kamar Baldwin’s layup tied the game, Justin Smith put the Hoosiers back in front on a dunk with 34 seconds remaining. Smith did so off a pass from Phinisee, who took advantage of Butler closing down on Morgan and fed the athletic sophomore forward instead.

Baldwin’s layup with 23 seconds locked the game into one more tie.

Then, Phinisee broke it.

“He’s like the pitbull of the team,” Morgan said. “Starts with him. As soon as the ball is tipped, he always has the first defensive or offensive possession. We go as he goes.”


  1. If Smith ever gets his feet to do what his mind wants them to do, he’ll be a load of all loads….He hit some very timely buckets today.

    Morgan? Stud.

  2. Butler is a team that doesn’t need hardly any room on threes if they are hitting them. Though IU was guarding them but just lacked a tiny bit and that was all Butler needed for about 85% of game until end. Then, IU made some turnovers (most silly) for a long stretch of game when IU was trying to tie or take lead. Morgan, and IU hung tough and quickly closed score at times. What a performance by Morgan and A.Miller had IU prepared for a good Butler team (not great) and coached an excellent game. IU was mentally tough. Little shaky with Green at point. R.P. Starts his greatness at the point. It will be great for IU to have him around for quite awhile now.

  3. Wow! Great win on a neutral court and another example of IU’s mental toughness, perseverance and fight overcoming too many sloppy offensive possessions to produce a win. And credit to Butler for playing a great game too!

    Better free throw shooting was a relief and Morgan just dominated whenever he touched the ball. IU played good defense throughout the game, but still produced far too many turnovers from careless passes and sloppiness.

    Not sure why IU planned to get the ball to Romeo for the last shot? He’s not shooting 3-pointers worth a darn right now and his last attempt of the game was an air ball! Phinisee came through with a shot that will rank amongst the best shots in IU basketball history. Smith continues to play better, which is essential for this to be successful season.

    This IU team is developing an identify of coming from behind and winning in the last minutes or seconds of hard fought games. It should give them great confidence going forward, but they still have to improve their passing and reduce the number of careless turnovers.

    I found Archie’s non-reaction after Phinisee’s shot went in to be odd. Hope some journalist was watching and will ask him about that. Archie just stood there without expressing any emotion while the rest of his team went bonkers.

    1. I wondered if he was waiting for the officials to finish their review. By then the initial celebration was over.

  4. Since Syracuse lost today, IU should be ranked well into the top 25 on Monday, maybe even in the top 20. They deserve it.

  5. AM Drew up the play for Romeo because he’s the best driving guard in the country and all he had to do was attack the basket. He want goin to shoot a three. Draw the foul or finish. Only Tom Crean would draw up another play.

    Archie’s reaction was tremendous. He’s the real deal. All substance.

  6. Archie’s non-reaction was as if he didn’t believe the shot would count and was already planning for overtime.

    At first I thought the same thing, but Romeo’s movement without the ball had him out past the 3-point line with hardly enough time to drive and shoot. I’m wondering if Archie wanted that play to start a little sooner. Oh well, it all worked out because our freshman point guard had ice in his veins.

    1. You’re saying the right things, but you almost sound disappointed.

      “Oh well”….? lol. That’s exactly what Phinisee did. HE PUT IT IN THE WELL. Just an amazing shot….I had no idea he was that strong.

      1. Archie just stood there without expressing any emotion while the rest of his team went bonkers.

        But his inner reaction was right behind him….

  7. DD- Agree. What a relief to have authenticity on the sideline. This team reflects the personality of their coach.
    They are tough as nails and rarely scatterbrained.

    Morgan hitting threes…Justin Smith hit a timely three….Phinisee hit a couple triples and a rather important game-winner from another time zone. I thought we didn’t have shooters?

    Sorry, Butler…When you now go against IU, it’s no longer gonna be game planning against the dumbwaiter.

  8. (I am) Following up on Double Down’s excellent analysis: This team has substance and it starts from our Coach. The culture has changed and the future looks bright.

  9. In my opinion Rob is playing steadier and with more maturity than Yogi at the same point…and I loved Yogi.

    Rob looks like an upperclassman out there.

    Juwan is a machine.

    Gentlemen, we have a team.

  10. Phinisee probes a defense; a rare skill at the position. He never looks rushed. Extreme savvy. The game-winner shouldn’t overshadow the many shots he drains at big intervals in games(stopping opposition’s momentum..or when we are in dire need of a bucket to get some of our own momentum back). Quintessential steady example to steady a team.

  11. I love Archie Miller. He came in with a plan and pedigree to play defense first. And THAT is what the difference is at IU. Some days shots don’t fall & your opponents’ shots do. But a commitment to defense keeps a team in games. Last year was instilling the message & the results were unstable. This year it is clearly setting in. It helps to have players who can endorse the philosophy of ‘team first’.

    Two years ago, McRoberts didn’t see the floor until the final month, yet he always played harder than anyone on that team. Eventually Crean realized it, albeit reluctantly. Davis was a starter. Green was lost. Even last year, several of our current bench players were starters. That is also a major key to this team, it’s depth. Even during rests or foul trouble, we have talent & experience to plug in and hold the fort down.

    Thank God we have a coach. We have 2 potential all-Americans & Phinisee who may be on that list in 2 years. We have role players. The difference in this program over the last 20 months is refreshing. We are on the mend. Good, but not great.

    On the downside, I still don’t see much in Smith. Sure he made a key 3 & a dunk created by Phinisee. But he missed several defensive assignments, specifically on switches & crowded the ball, when it was our ball, on several occasions s.a. when he set a screen for Romeo & then released right into Romeo’s drive. The bottom line is that he’s the weak link in this team. He’s a mess. And Green still makes me grind my teeth. I’m hopeful these two improve quickly because we’ll need it starting in Jan. The Big Ten is no picnic.

    Maybe we’ll win 3 or 4 on the road. Maybe we’ll only lose 1 or 2 at home. I still see this team having 9 or 10 losses once the dust settles in March.

    1. Smith is simply too talented to keep down too long…I think there will a point when he busts out and realizes his potential. I just can’t imagine a dead end future for a young man with so much basketball potential. Not sure when he’ll explode and get his body to mesh with his mind, but when it does, he’ll drop some jaws and bring the wow factor.
      Even with the occasional clumsy decisions, he brings a lot of current positives. He’s key to our success.

  12. I thought the free throw stat was especially strange. Only two players from each team even attempted free throws.

    I am not sure I have seen that before.

  13. Though last second shot Phinisee had good form, strength, jump, and follow through. Shot wasn’t rushed and yet aware of time. Focused and aware.

  14. It is good for IU men’s basketball to have a coach that makes sense when he talks, knows how to recruit, and knows how to coach. A big man needed as in 6’9” , 6’10”+ (high 4 star or 5 star)

  15. Other than these type games being terribly hard on one’s blood pressure, I do an observation on the biggest beneficiary of the Butler game. Without question Romeo just walked away as the biggest winner in the middle of having his toughest game as a collegian. Why? Because the message to all upcoming opponents is if you go all out to stop Romeo, as Butler did throughout the game, IU has other options. You can even try to massage the situation with Juwan and control the damage JM & RL can do to you, but we have a 3rd option. May be a 3rd option by committee, but there is a 3rd option. This time it was RP, who know who it might be next time.

  16. thinkaboutit- Good post. Still believe Justin Smith is the key that determines many things for this team. Our wise coach understands it fully.

    I would add that Butler has a very good basketball team.

  17. think, and maybe a fourth option being that Smith seems to be developing confidence in his offense. I think I witnessed him making a 3-pointer yesterday. Given his athletic ability, having him become a weapon on offense is like a double bonus.

    Phinisee is doing an excellent job on both ends of the floor.

    It was a game played by two well-coached teams as evidenced by the small number of fouls called in the second half. Some of the offensive fouls called on IU during the first half were suspect, but we overcame those and little by little closed the gap in the second half. Great win!

  18. Looks like Archie has made a career out of winning close games. What we are seeing isn’t an accident. It’s a real deal coaching effort.

    This comes from the “Assembly Call” podcast:

    “But when you look at the records of coaches in games decided by 5 points or less, there’s a reason why so many renowned coaches are near the top of the list. Winning close games becomes a habit for well-coached teams.

    Archie Miller is now 53-29 in games decided by 5 points or less, all overtime games included. That’s already among the top 20 of all coaches since 2002.

    If you remove his first two seasons as a head coach, when he went 8-11 in close games, Archie is 45-18 in close games over the last six seasons — a 71% winning percentage that would place him in the top 10 of all coaches, alongside names like Brad Stevens, Mark Few, and Bill Self.”

  19. ^^^Music to my ears, DoubleDown.

    Contrast that to the Georgia vs. Arizona State game. Take a look at the last couple possessions for Georgia. It’s a painful rerun of what we had to endure until ‘relief’ entered our basketball world.

    And such a confidence builder for our improving Hoosiers to get so many close game victories under the belt early. It fosters a “we’ve got this, we’ve been here before” mindset. It fosters confidence and belief in your coach in those final huddles of final timeouts. Night and day difference to what was inexplicably tolerated far too many seasons under the banners of a storied program assembled via steady basketball intellect and fundamental strengths. It’s one thing to wear the five stars on the waistband ….It’s another thing to play by their creed.

    Bobby Hurley is going to be another good one….

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