IU take-aways: Indiana 72, Minnesota 67

Joey Brunk stayed the course.

In recent weeks, it seemed like the emergence of Race Thompson coincided with the sinking of Joey Brunk.

In a six-game span from the win over Iowa to the loss at Illinois, Thompson logged 20 or more minutes five times, racking up 35 points and 30 rebounds off the bench. Brunk, on the other hand, averaged just over 10 minutes per game during that span, producing 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Foul trouble was part of the redshirt junior’s issue, but it was more than that. The 6-foot-11 forward had a 3-of-10 outing from the field at Michigan. He was then 2-of-8 at Purdue. From point-blank range, he was ineffective.

But IU coach Archie Miller wasn’t about to give up on a player who had started every game this season. He wasn’t about to slight one of his hardest workers, a player who was doing everything behind the scenes to get out of a rut.

And that player rewarded his coach’s confidence in his 30th start, posting 12 points, eight rebounds, and a block of Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu at the rim.

“I’ll tell you this much, the minute you change, you lose guys. There’s no reason to do that,” Miller said when asked about his starting lineup. “Part of it is I think what Joey did tonight, you hang in there. Hang in there. It’s not easy to play well every night, but it’s easy to play hard every night. I think Joe played extremely hard.”

Brunk played hard, and he did it for 28 minutes — equal to his total run time in the three games prior.

This should boost Brunk’s confidence down the stretch. If Miller can get him going along with Thompson — who was 1-of-5 from the floor in 13 minutes — the versatility of the Hoosiers’ frontcourt hits another level.

When he was asked about the journey leading up to his bounce-back performance, the Hoosiers’ center didn’t have a surplus of words. He’s kept his task simple.

“Just got to stick with it, regardless of what is going on,” Brunk said. “Continuing to lead in practice, have energy, keep plugging away.”

By dropping in five of his six shots in the second half, Brunk helped keep Minnesota at an arm’s length. Along with frontcourt mate Trayce Jackson-Davis, they totaled 30 points and 17 rebounds. That will keep IU in games.

Brunk’s defense on Oturu, who needed to take 27 shots to get to 24 points, was crucial. Miller thinks Brunk’s success on that end benefitted him on the other.

“It’s all confidence,” Miller said. “I think Joe cares a lot and he overthinks it a little bit. I think tonight he just started to really play hard defensively. I think that was a big key in him being engaged in the game. Typically when you’re worried about that, other things sort of go your way, which I think happened for him.”

The guards took care of it — and were aggressive.

With 52 points in the paint, IU tied its conference high, which came in a 96-90 win over Nebraska.

If a team is scoring all but 20 of its points in the paint, it can’t just be the posts scoring there.

IU’s total was so high because of the aggressiveness of their guards, especially Rob Phinisee and Al Durham. Phinisee scored all four of his field goals in the paint. Durham hit a pair of 3s, but he also scored another two in the lane, including a pivotal three-point play in the second half.

“Al was aggressive coming off those screens,” Brunk said. “Did a good job of looking to score, creating for others when he was doing it.”

Brunk’s first bucket of the second half came via a nice find from Durham, one of the junior guard’s four assists. Phinisee added another five helpers.

Better yet, IU committed just 10 turnovers to 14 assists. This is just the 13th time in 30 games the Hoosiers have logged more assists than turnovers, but three of those occasions have come in their last five games.

IU’s guards are taking better care of the ball, mostly. Durham, Phinisee, and Devonte Green — who had just one turnover to three assists Thursday — will need to continue this trend as the Hoosiers head into the postseason.

Trayce plays through pain.

Miller isn’t exactly sure when Jackson-Davis came down with it, but a foot sprain made it questionable how much the 6-9 freshman would play versus Minnesota.

They watched him go in the first four minutes, and the forward from Greenwood was bouncy enough.

“He’s done every test known to man. He’s fine,” Miller said. “It’s a pain tolerance (issue) right now.”

Whether the injury will affect the Hoosiers’ leading scorer long-term or not remains to be seen, but Miller may be more concerned with the defensive end heading into the home finale with Wisconsin on Saturday.

“Have to get him more engaged. Saturday is going to be a big challenge for all of our frontcourt players with how Wisconsin plays,” Miller said. “We had no answer for them way, way back. But we’re going to have to be a lot better engaged defensively on Saturday.”

What’s next?

Wisconsin, noon Saturday, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall

As Miller said, IU’s first game with Wisconsin was not good.

The Badgers (20-10, 13-6 Big Ten) beat the Hoosiers by 20 points in Madison, 84-64. Winners of seven games in a row, Wisconsin may be playing even better than before.

Not only will rangy forward Nate Reuvers test IU’s frontcourt, but guard Brad Davison has been a real catalyst from the perimeter since Kobe King left the team in January.

If the Hoosiers (19-11, 9-10) beat the No. 24 Badgers, it would be their sixth win over a top 25 team this season. All five thus far have come at home.