Hoosiers looking for boost from their bench

The depth Indiana hoped to enjoy this season so far hasn’t materialized.

With injuries continuing to destabilize IU’s roster, the Hoosiers were forced to navigate Sunday’s game at No. 2 Michigan with a season-high five scholarship players unavailable. That left Indiana coach Archie Miller with a rapidly-thinning bench that struggled to produce.

IU’s bench went scoreless in the 74-63 loss to the Wolverines, further slicing the margin for error entering the showdown in Ann Arbor.

Now it’s Miller’s mission to get the reserves who are healthy better equipped to contribute when called upon.

“Hopefully, we’ll get some guys back and become even deeper,” Miller said. “But, without question, our bench has to come into the game feeling confident.”

With starting point guard Rob Phinisee missing his third straight game after suffering a concussion on Dec. 19, and center De’Ron Davis nursing an ankle injury suffered on Thursday, Miller had only three scholarship players available on his bench at Michigan. He used only two — forwards Clifton Moore and Evan Fitzner — plus walk-on Zach McRoberts, who’s not quite 100 percent as he continues to deal with back issues.

The trio produced only two rebounds — both from McRoberts — while committing two turnovers in a combined 39 minutes, marking the second time this season (UC Davis the first) IU’s bench failed to score a single point.

“De’Ron wasn’t available for the game, Rob Phinisee wasn’t available for the game, Jake Forrester wasn’t available for the game,” Miller said, running down a list of inactive players that also included forwards Race Thompson (concussion) and Jerome Hunter (leg). “Felt Evan, Zach and Cliff all came in ready and did their part. Played as hard as they possibly could. You know, I wish those guys would have had a couple opportunities to maybe make a couple of baskets, but they did a good job.”

Moore entered first, replacing Juwan Morgan after the senior forward picked up his second foul less than four minutes into the contest. McRoberts entered nine seconds later, replacing Romeo Langford after he was whistled for his second personal foul.

It marked the start of a crucial stretch in Michigan’s path to victory. Without Morgan and Langford on the floor for IU, the Wolverines went on a 10-0 run across a two-minute span that forced Miller to call timeout and reinsert his two top players.

“Both (Morgan and Langford) need to be in the game and need to be smart about it, because they are important to us,” Miller said. “But we have to be better. When we sub and guys come in, they have to get the job done and play well. For us right now, our bench is just a little bit thinner than we’d like.”

With Devonte Green pressed into a starter’s role, McRoberts was the only backcourt reserve with true experience available on Sunday. But McRoberts doesn’t quite look like himself, playing through a back issue that has nagged him for much of the season.

McRoberts is participating in only 50-to-60 percent of IU’s practices, Miller said, as he tries to push himself and maintain a playing level that allows him to remain active and available to help where he can.

“He’s not as sharp physically, I don’t think, as he was,” Miller said. “Hopefully, he’ll continue to get stronger and get better in that area. His role and what he’s done for us all the time is obviously (making) the winning plays.”

A graduate transfer from St. Mary’s, Fitzner was brought in to give IU a steady shooting presence on the outside. Although he’s making 41 percent (10-for-24) of his 3-pointers, Fitzner has made only one shot beyond the arc in the last seven games.

Since going 3-for-3 from 3-point range at Duke on Nov. 27, Fitzner is shooting 2-for-10 along the perimeter in the eight ensuing contests.

“We’ve got to get Evan Fitzner going again much more aggressive early in the game,” Miller said. “We’ve got to get him more windows.”

Miller also said he’d like to get freshman wing Damezi Anderson more playing time early in games in order to boost his confidence.

“We have to find a way, obviously, to get some offense out of our bench, too, when they come into the game,” Miller said. “Part of that is hopefully Robert will start to feel a little bit better here. Hopefully we can get De’Ron back a little bit. Those two guys would help the cause. We’ll see how the rest of the guys continue to hold up. If we can get a little lucky and get a couple guys back, that will help our depth and bench.”

7 comments

  1. Damezi plays hard and is not afraid to shoot. At 33% from 3 and 36% on FG he is not a liability. He is a streak scorer so giving him 10-17 minutes would help.

  2. If nothing else I thought Archie was a straight shooter. For him to say the bench did a good job is a bit mystifying.

    Can only hope he feels that piling on at this point serves no purpose.

    Fitzner has to shoot 50% from three or he is a net, net negative. When McRoberts is in the game we are playing 4 on 5 on offense. And Moore, well, we can still hope.

    If we get healthy, these three will move on down that line. They had their chance.

    1. It’s relative.

      For their skill set they probably did do a good job.

      Who knows what Moore might develop into? Nobody is going to ride in March on the shoulders of Mcroberts or Fitzner.

  3. I wonder…? If Rob doesn’t quite make the cut to ever play in the NBA, could there be some remote possibility that he’d play pro basketball in Japan? Somewhere, sometime…..in a restaurant far, far away.
    “You like some soup? Today we get in fresh shark …We have ‘Fin o’ Sea’ on menu.”
    And the rest was history….

    JPat- Let’s hope his season is not Phin-ished. We’ll see.

  4. Double Down says:
    December 7, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    Harv,

    Why do you think OSU is down? They haven’t played the toughest schedule in the world, but they are 8-1. Pretty good for a young team. I hope they’re overrated, but have to admit that I feel like this program is on better footing than most in the B1G.

    1/9/2019
    Rutgers 64
    #16 OSU 61

    $7,149,849 salary this year….? Third highest salary in college basketball? Lose at Rutgers? The Butler made you do it. Go home, Holtmann.

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