Hoosiers hang on for 68-67 win over Cardinals

Juwan Morgan doesn’t call them freshmen anymore.

Not after what Rob Phinisee and Romeo Langford have done to get Indiana to this point in the young season.

Phinisee and Langford may be newcomers, but they’re playing above their level. Authors of big plays in clutch moments, the duo delivered for the Hoosiers again on Saturday.

On a hit-and-miss offensive afternoon, Phinisee and Langford steadied the Hoosiers late. Phinisee gave IU both its first lead and its last with a couple crucial second-half 3-pointers, while Langford poured in a team-high 21 points to lead Indiana to a 68-67 victory over Louisville before an announced crowd of 17,222 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

“They’re becoming more like veterans,” Morgan said.

Indeed they are. Both Phinisee and Langford are supplying the Hoosiers (8-2) with the attributes they lacked merely a year ago, helping Indiana grind out close games to earn valuable wins.

For the second time this week, Phinisee lifted IU to victory with his play in the second half on Saturday. It came after an aggressive performance at Penn State on Tuesday, when Phinisee stepped up with big baskets and an even bigger defensive stop to help beat the Nittany Lions in his first Big Ten road game.

On Saturday, in the final contest of a three-game series with Louisville (6-3), Phinisee fed his growing reputation as a late-game assassin.

In a game that Louisville led for 30 minutes, Phinisee gave Indiana its first lead of the game at 49-47 when he drilled a 3-pointer along the wing with 8:33 to play. It was one of only four made 3-pointers in 14 tries by Indiana on Saturday, a woeful shooting performance that could’ve doomed the Hoosiers in their latest premier non-conference matchup of the season.

Phinisee wasn’t done there.

All told, Phinisee hit three of IU’s four 3-pointers on the afternoon, including the biggest one of the day. With the Hoosiers trailing 58-57 with 1:25 to go, Phinisee shed his defender and spotted up from atop the key, sinking a 3 that gave the Hoosiers a 60-58 advantage that they wouldn’t relinquish.

“The play really wasn’t designed for that,” said Phinisee, who finished with 10 points and six rebounds. “I saw my guy drop back in. I just took the open shot and made it.”

Consider it the latest step in Phinisee’s development as a more aggressive scorer. Through the first month of his college career, Phinisee earned the trust of IU coach Archie Miller through his steady and heady approach to the point guard position.

As he’s acquitted himself well to the position in IU’s lineup, Miller has directed him to be a more strong-willed offensive threat. At Penn State, Phinisee dictated and changed pace, playing fast and attacking the basket as needed.

Against Louisville, Phinisee stepped forward and took big shots as needed.

“We need him to hunt more shots,” Miller said. “He’s very reluctant right now to shoot unless he’s wide open. He’s a good shooter. The two that he hit in the second half were big. I was glad that he read it. Clearly the shot at the top was really well executed. He stepped in and drilled it. … He was big in the last four minutes of the game. You need your point guard to be able to do that.”

Too often in recent seasons, Indiana lacked that dynamic play at the point. Through 10 games, Phinisee has appeared eager and willing to fill that void.

So, too, has Langford in giving IU the kind of consistent and versatile scoring it needs to win these close games.

So far, the Hoosiers have found themselves in more than a few of them.

Saturday marked IU’s third straight narrow win. The total margin of victory across those three games is five points. Not only is Indiana winning close games, it’s demonstrating an ability to overcome deficits and secure those victories late.

Each of Indiana’s last four wins has seen the Hoosiers erase a sizable deficit — UC Davis (14 points), Northwestern (five points), Penn State (nine points) and Louisville (eight points).

“This time last year, we were losing those games,” Morgan said. “I think this time, we’re coming together as a group, doing a better job on both sides of the ball, knocking down free throws (and) also getting stops to put us over the top.”

Just like in each of those last four wins, Langford was the focus for Indiana. A career-high nine of his 21 points came at the free throw line, where he could’ve added a few more in finishing only 9-for-14.

The New Albany native has now scored in double figures in each of his first 10 games, coming a point shy of tying his career high on Saturday against his hometown school.

“I saw we were starting up a little slow,” Langford said. “I took it in my hands to get the team going.”

IU needed every bit of the help from Langford, who supplied 11 of his points in the first half. The Hoosiers slogged their way through a tough first half, during which they shot only 11-for-25 from the field, missed bunnies and struggled from deep.

Credit Louisville, which helped itself with a strong-willed start to the afternoon, taking a packed crowd out of the equation with resilient, purposeful play during the early going. While IU struggled to hit shots — both near and far — Louisville turned the ball over only twice in the first half and made the most of opportunities.

Jordan Nwora led the Cardinals with a double-double of 24 points and 14 rebounds.

But Louisville’s early fortunes didn’t carry over into the second half. Indiana did a better job defensively in the final period, holding the Cardinals to 34 percent shooting.

“I thought in the middle of the second half when we went on an offensive drought, our defense wasn’t what it was compared to the other 30 minutes of the game. (Then) IU took the lead,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “Then, I thought we clamped down a lot harder defensively. As I told our guys, we are going to have times where even your best teams on offense don’t score four or five possessions in a row. We have to be able to keep the other team from scoring. We didn’t do that. Two guys that we really highlighted coming into the game were their two best players, and they played like it.”

When Indiana opened this season, it knew it could count on Morgan to be not only its most important player but one of the best in the Big Ten.

Early on, it has learned that the senior forward need not carry the load on its own.

It has its two freshmen to thank for that.

“We can’t call them freshmen anymore,” Morgan said, “because the plays they’re making down the stretch are big plays for us. They still have mistakes here or there, but they always make up for them.”

36 comments

  1. Gotta love a tough win when the shots aren’t falling. Gritty.

    I’d love to hear the follow up from the folks who were saying how Chris Mack was doing a better job at Louisville than Archie is soing in Bloomington.

    By what standard?

  2. Archie and Chris Mack are both excellent coaches. Both coach at schools rich in basketball history. it should be a good rivalry for many years to come.

    Great comeback win due primarily to home court advantage. Love the fight in this IU team. We’re not a good offensive team, but these young men never quit. Would love to see them make it a little easier on themselves and their fans by learning how to shoot free throws. 3-point shooting needs a lot of work too. But they don’t every quit, and that’s reassuring.

    Must give credit to Smith for his performance today. It was much better, and maybe his best game of the year. Hope his confidence grows based on today’s performance. Green is still a turnover machine. Unless he cleans up his ball-handling and decision-making, I just don’t see him playing much in the future. He hustles, but I hold my breath every time he has the ball. And Davis stayed focused and played well today. Phinisee is becoming a star, and boy are we going to miss JM next year. What a stud!

    Was it me, or were these refs blind to the hack and crack fouls committed by Louisville? Seemed a bit lopsided for significant periods today.

  3. Po is right. They are good coaches and that game was a battle. Kudos to IU for winning which is a resume builder come selection time. Davis and Smith made important contributions today which was good to see. IU obviously has limitations but if they play to their strengths and stop the very high turnover rate they can play with most teams in the conference and the country. The x-factor is Morgan staying out of foul trouble as IU has poor options against strong inside players if he is out of the game. Avery good win! Go Hoosiers!

  4. Mike Miller, I didn’t see Race Thompson at the game. Could you get some information on his status? Its been close to four weeks without Race Thompson, I know he was on concussion watch. Thanks

  5. Anybody catch Kentucky’s total meltdown on their last possession today?

    They inbounded the ball with around ten seconds on the clock, wandered around aimlessly, and settled for an extremely long, off balance, contested three pointer that missed the rim by feet.

    Odd play for Calipari to call.

    1. Don’t like their program history. Don’t like their coach’s history. Don’t like their coach’s recruiting philosophy. Don’t like their coach’s style of play. Don’t like their overbearing fans. Lexington is alright for a night. Chet’s right ‘bait and tackle store’.

  6. Chet, what I saw in the last possession of the Kentucky game was a slow game clock. That was the longest 1.2 seconds in history. Catch the ball, take a dribble and then shoot it from half court. Great shot, but no way he got that off within 1.2 seconds. Glad Seton Hall won the game.

    1. Yeah, that was the last possession in regulation.

      Kentucky had 10 seconds to set up for the last shot of the game and they ended up throwing up a prayer that missed the rim by several feet.

      Looked like a last shot play CTC might have drawn up.

    1. It’s a concussion. We have no idea if he has had past head trauma or how severe this injury is. Let alone it everyone affected differently and healing on different timelines.

  7. Always very good to get the win, but I saw a team with a lot of wrinkles needing to be ironed out. I know it could be the competition, but a lot of the game IU seemed to be disjointed and had a lack of cohesion on the floor. Could be the lingering effects of the injury bug, but let’s hope we see continued improvement. These type games ain’t good for anyone’s blood pressure.

    FT continue to be a serious problem along with outside shooting. In EF’s brief appearance he looked totally lost and the defense against a hot shooting 3 team is still an issue. Overall, the biggest positive is this game would have been lost by double digits last year. This year’s team gutted out yet another difficult win.

    1. The biggest positive for me is actually watching five guys on the floor running some offense(. No more endless drive-and-kick…No more ‘weaves to nowhere.’ Actually watching guys work in tandem in various sets..e.g. Morgan delivering a nifty assist to Justin Smith back-cutting through the lane to the basket….
      These wins are a product of “gutting it out” and showing grit…but they’re also a product of far better coaching and increased vision on the floor. It’s starting to sink in. Movement is no longer movement for the sake of movement(as if stamina is what ultimately breaks an offensive player free for a final determining factor in getting an open shot). Our team has more energy at the end of a game because they are working smarter rather than harder.
      It’s a wonderful thing to see basketball become a team game again. Sure, there are some problems and weaknesses(as there are with all teams), but young men are learning basketball. The more they learn, the more they’ll buy in. The results will come too…as confidence builds in teammates and trust flourishes in the classroom of collective purpose.

      This should not be called a different “style of play” compared to the last imposter on the sideline. This is actually basketball, my Scoop bros. Surgical precision….team defense….purposeful movement…unselfish sharing of the ball….back-cuts…patience…probing from a point guard..understanding the opponent….fundamentals…boxing out for boards.

      Everyday the garden of basketball grows more lush.

      1. Exactly. This team can create offense. I don’t agree that they are a “poor offensive” team. They aren’t great shooters. But they create offense, constantly moving and creating space. The 2nd half yesterday was our Hoosiers learning what they can do. The turnovers were down because they had confidence in their sets and moved fluidly, quickly, but not in a hurry.

        They’re slowly starting to see some shooters emerge. Like Phinisee.

        I actually think Phinisee is ahead of where Yogi was his freshman year. Rob is finding his stroke and gaining confidence. We have a shooter in our midst. Growing in front of our very eyes.

        1. That pass to a cutting Smith was sick.

          I don’t necessarily think this is a bad shooting team. History implies it isn’t. I think this is a team that is currently shooting badly.

          I honestly think the shooting percentage is a mental thing that could change at the drop of a hat. Once they get in a comfortable offensive rhythm I believe the shots will begin to drop.

  8. Positive: and a big positive is that IU held its own and improved as game went on.
    Negative: free throw shooting (could have won by 8-10) + last play and almost fouled.

  9. Don’t want to go to long without mentioning how strong DD’s 14 minutes were to the IU W. His quick, nimble feet has developed into terrific footwork and the Ville’s big men couldn’t handle him. Another month of game and practice time, loss of 7-8 more Lbs. along with increasing stamina and he’ll become Smith and Morgan’s best friend. To me that is going to be big and a positive to really look forward to in 2019.

      1. I love the way Romeo employs the finger roll…Very retro. He reminds me of some of my favorite old school NBA players(Bob ‘Butterbean’ Love, Dr. J., The Iceman).

        Of course, there is finger roll…and then there is finger roll. 40 years have flown by since he brought so much style to the game of basketball, but the I still marvel at Dr. J….I have never seen anyone who can compare to his pure art on a basketball court.

  10. DD. I am fairly surprised how he, AM and staff have effectively brought him back on the court. He seems to be coming back solidly.
    Agree. I felt the same way Romeo seems to be in his own gear going a little faster but not fast. I think it is because of his long stride, able to get up high while going to bucket or even stealing ball.

    1. I think he is just so athletically gifted that everything just looks effortless. He doesn’t need to ‘coil up’ to make an explosive movement. He can do it from any posture.

      Cam Newton never seems to be running fast, either, but not many people can catch him.

  11. This team wins with defense and pure fight. I admire their mental toughness and resiliency. But by any standard of IU men’s basketball, they are not a good shooting team. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that they’re not a good outside shooting team. Having said that, they can improve their outside shooting and their free throw shooting, and I think they will. But they already have the most important attribute a team can possess.

  12. Is it me or does this team look a little too comfortable in these tight games? I think that will help as we get deeper into the Big Ten season, but it almost seems as if they prefer to play in a tight game versus having a big lead. This might not be true, but there is no panic with this team as the game gets tighter and tighter.

  13. 1992, they’d have much more comfortable leads if they could shoot free throws. They’ve left a lot of points on the floor in every game they’ve played this season because they make only 62% of their free throws season-to-date. Not sure, but I thought I heard on Saturday’s broadcast that IU is the worst, or close to the worst free throw shooting team in the country right now. That’s just unbelievable!

  14. Not sure, but I thought I heard on Saturday’s broadcast that IU is the worst, or close to the worst free throw shooting team in the country right now. That’s just unbelievable!

    It’s close to a 30 game season….”Worst in the country” means nothing this early.
    I like the fact that guys are making big shots. Phinisee continues to score the ball and hit deep threes when games are on the line. Romeo made a pair from the stripe when it counted most(albeit one clanging off the front of the iron and dropping forward through the nets).
    Percentage from the line will climb.
    Many guys have been played intermittently due to injuries and PT being widely distributed as Archie tests his roster and develops preferred combinations on the floor.
    Shooting is a product of rhythm and flow. As guys get more playing time and rotations settle in, our outside shooting numbers and FT numbers will improve.

    1. “I don’t necessarily think this is a bad shooting team. History implies it isn’t. I think this is a team that is currently shooting badly.

      I honestly think the shooting percentage is a mental thing that could change at the drop of a hat. Once they get in a comfortable offensive rhythm I believe the shots will begin to drop.”

  15. I hope you’re right, Chet. They exhaust themselves making up for missed free throws and missed 3-pointers. I can’t wait to see them knocking down shots they’re now missing on a regular basis. They could produce a special season if they can do that.

  16. We currently rank #1 in the BigTen in field goal percentage @ .514 ….We must be doing something right(it’s called running offense that gets us easy looks).

    We currently rank #7 in the BigTen in 3-pt field goal percentage @ .359….The #5 team in the nation, Michigan, is currently #6 in the BigTen in 3-pt field goal percentage @ .366 …That’s a whopping .007 (less than 1%) difference than our Hoosiers.

    Michigan and Indiana rank #12( .660) & #13 (.638) respectively in BigTen free throw percentage. Both not very good at this early stage.

    Michigan’s similarly poor free throw shooting percentage. along with a 3-pt % nearly identical to Indiana, has not prevented a #5 national ranking.

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