IU take-aways: Indiana 57, UConn 54

Just finding a way to win.

In the second half, the offensive struggles of both Indiana and UConn could be summarized by their scoring guards.

Devonte Green and Christian Vital were a combined 0-of-9 from the field and missed all five of their 3-point shots. Each managed to provide their team with one second-half point.

Point. Singular.

Without the benefit of instant scoring, neither team had an easy out. It was up to the collective to string out a victory.

The result wasn’t pretty, but it was all the Hoosiers needed following a dismal showing in Madison three days prior. Lefty guard Al Durham was able to get to the basket with his right hand and finish. Joey Brunk recovered from an 0-of-4 first half by hitting 4-of-6 in the second.

“We grew up a little bit this week. I thought today was a battle-tested type of game where you had to earn it,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pretty. But to find a way to get on that plane tonight after playing in that environment is a good feeling for your guys.”

It was a war of attrition, and the Huskies lost more opportunities than the Hoosiers, giving away 22 turnovers to their opponent’s 13. In spite of a 29-percent shooting effort in the second half, IU won the brawl.

There is no question the Hoosiers want to be better offensively, and they will hope Green has better shooting nights. But in the Big Ten, they are going to have to win this way from time to time. They showed they can.

And they did it on a neutral floor.

“Every game is a learning experience,” junior Justin Smith said. “We learn how to deal with runs when other teams make runs. We can respond with our own runs. And really just learning how to win. We are still learning how to win, especially in these tough games.”

This one meant a little more to Brunk.

At a point, it seemed like Hoosier fans’ patience might start wearing thin with the 6-foot-11 junior.

In the first half, he was lagging on the defensive end. His shots from the paint weren’t falling. He didn’t look great at Wisconsin, either, so there was cause for concern.

Miller put Brunk on the bench for the final 13:29 of the half and didn’t put him back in until after the break. But when he did reenter, Brunk embraced the moment.

The Jimmy V Classic, an event supporting cancer awareness and research, was a fitting venue for Brunk to shine. His father, Joe, died after a battle with brain cancer in April 2017. To come back and perform the way he did was no small thing, because of the game and the stage.

After the win, Brunk was interviewed by ESPN’s Holly Rowe, who is a cancer survivor.

“It’s obvious, it was pretty special,” Brunk said. “At the end of our conversation, she asked about my dad, and my dad, I think he’s watching every game. … I think about him nightly, so it’s not like (Tuesday’s game was) necessarily anything way out of the norm.”

How the post position is managed will continue to be interesting. IU seems to get a boost from its slightly smaller lineup, inserting Trayce Jackson-Davis at the five. On the other hand, when Brunk is performing as he did in the second half, playing with fire and grit, he’s valuable.

“To his credit, he didn’t get down,” Miller said. “He stayed with it, and I thought the guys on the team, especially the staff, as well, kind of kept everybody engaged.”

Phinisee is incalculably valuable.

Rob Phinisee’s numbers from the win over UConn aren’t staggering.

He finished with six points on 1-of-3 shooting, 4-of-4 at the free throw line, four rebounds, and two assists. That production came in 13 minutes off the bench.

But after missing IU’s last four games, mainly due to an ankle injury, the sophomore brought things to the floor Tuesday that a stat sheet won’t always show. He was aggressive pressuring the ball. He hustled for loose balls. He was a calming presence on the offensive end.

“Rob’s a great player, and he really adds a lot to our team, offensively and defensively,” Smith said. “We missed him the past couple of games.”

At times, IU found itself moving a little too fast, tossing errant passes. But, for the most part, their guards were better handling the ball.

Three turnovers apiece went to Smith and Jackson-Davis. Durham had just one. Green had two. Phinisee had one.

It’s impossible to know how Phinisee may have altered the result at Wisconsin, but it’s safe to say the Hoosiers are better when their purest point guard is available. Miller will hope the string of injuries that have kept the sophomore sidelined is now in the past.

“From just an experience level, he’s played a lot of minutes, and I thought he went in there and he did what he does,” Miller said. “Defensively, I thought he impacted the game when he came in. And then offensively, he’s steady and strong. He doesn’t fire the ball all over the place.”

What’s next?

Nebraska, 8 p.m. Friday, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

In their first year under Fred Hoiberg, the Cornhuskers (4-5) are going through some going pains.

They have lost three out of their last four games, including 19-point losses to George Mason and Creighton and a 17-point defeat to Georgia Tech.

Nebraska senior Haanif Cheatham (12.6 ppg) leads in scoring, but sophomore Cam Mack (12.3) and junior Dachon Burke Jr. (12.0) are also guards that can score.

4 comments

  1. Every game Rob makes the team his, by his evolution to become what Coach Miller wants. It’s fun watching him gain on that goal. PG’s that produce leadership equally on both ends of the court inspires teammates.

  2. Man, I’m hoping this team goes to work this week and sees a Nebraska team which has had the Hoosiers’ number recently (I can’t believe I have to acknowledge that). I’d love for them to come out hungry, tighten up the TO’s, and just crush the Huskers.

  3. The game is in Assembly Hall, so it should not be a problem, especially with Phinisee back on the court and all 11 players healthy.

  4. Gents, read something somewhere IU has all scholarship players available for the 1st time in 60 games. Possibly could help make for a more harmonious outcome.

Comments are closed.