IU take-aways: Indiana 96, Nebraska 90

The defense is still a major concern.

Indiana’s low-scoring, slugfest of a win over UConn may have alleviated some worries.

But those concerns quickly resurfaced versus the Cornhuskers.

Against a four-guard lineup, the Hoosiers had trouble keeping Nebraska’s ball-handlers in front of them. The Huskers were also able to kick out for a dozen 3-point makes.

Following off of Wisconsin’s 84-point performance last weekend, Nebraska’s 90 points signals a troubling trend.

“In our two Big Ten games here in December … our defense has gotten shredded,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “Thankfully we were at home tonight with a great crowd, and we had some kids step up and make some big plays at home, which is what you have to do.

“But defensively, two out of our last three games, in particular, haven’t been very good.”

There are reasons to take this one with a grain of salt. IU’s legs weren’t fresh after a third game in six days, including two road trips. It’s still early for Big Ten play, as well, so there is time for some of IU’s newer pieces to jell.

The defense began to unravel after IU’s 11-2 run to open play, when sophomores Rob Phinisee, Race Thompson, and Damezi Anderson took the floor with freshmen Trayce Jackson-Davis and Armaan Franklin. But the landslide didn’t stop, no matter who was on the floor.

It’s troubling. Especially against a Nebraska team with eight scholarship players available — and a squad that was averaging 68 points per game in its last four. Especially being unable to stick a foot down and pull away at home.

“At the end of the day you’re playing a Big Ten Conference game in early December,” Miller said. “Our entire league’s going through it right now. When you play these games, it’s just a different feeling.”

Jackson-Davis can and should be assertive.

Miller made this point earlier this season, and it remains true.

When the 6-foot-9 freshman takes the ball to the basket with more force, he’s pretty hard to stop. He’s just so long and athletic. And being left-handed, Jackson-Davis is bound to draw fouls if he goes for it.

The contrast of Friday’s first and second halves showed the effect an aggressive Jackson-Davis can have on a game. After just three points on three shots in the first frame, the freshman forward went 8-of-9 from the floor in the second half en route to 25 points.

“He was reluctant to attack the basket in the first half. He passed it out,” Miller said. “I thought in the second half, he was more wheeling and spinning. He was trying to get himself going, and he was also on the offensive glass.”

As a freshman, players are often finding their way early in conference play. But there isn’t that luxury for Jackson-Davis, nor does he need to. He needs to attack.

Jackson-Davis did that on the boards versus a smaller Nebraska lineup. Five of Jackson-Davis’ six offensive rebounds came in the second half.

His production was also a simple function of better hustle, working to beat his man down the floor, which he wasn’t doing enough in the first half.

“In the second half, I tried to run past him and get as deep as I could and try to leg whip over him,” Jackson-Davis said. “I got a few easy buckets … and when you see a shot go in, it gives you the confidence to knock down other ones.”

As a focal point of the IU offensive attack, Jackson-Davis will have to be ready to make adjustments, as well.

He was asked postgame about the mid-range jumpers and 3-pointers he takes during warmups, shots he doesn’t regularly use in a game.

“Teams are probably going to scout that here in the future, so I’m going to have to use the right hand more, shooting out to 15 feet,” Jackson-Davis said. “I don’t think I need to shoot 3s that much right now. But I’m just going to keep working on it.”

Phinisee’s star burns bright.

Because of a myriad of injuries, Phinisee hasn’t practiced much. It would be hard to say he’s really hit a stride.

But the short bursts Phinisee has been able to provide, they’ve shown how much the Hoosiers have missed him.

He’s a poised competitor, evidenced by the 3-pointer he sank in overtime, pump-faking with time running out on the shot clock — letting a Husker fly by — and hitting a big shot.

“You can see that he’s the heart and soul in this thing with that team,” Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said. “With that poise and the way he plays, to have the patience to get that thing down to one and shot fake and rise up and knock it down, it’s a big-time shot.”

Not only did Phinisee connect for 16 crucial points, but he was also the Hoosiers’ most effective ball-handler, logging four assists to just one turnover.

Coming off of an ankle, Phinisee’s minutes increased a ton from Game 1 to Game 2 of his latest return, from 13 to 27. He could be in line for even more minutes if senior Devonte Green has to miss time with an Achilles injury.

“He’s about as a team guy as you get,” Miller said. “He’s stepped up and he’s ready. He’s been paying attention, and maybe with some reps and other things to get under his belt, he’ll continue to find himself back into the rhythm.

“But it won’t take him long to get back. He’s a guy that’s engaged. You can tell out there, he’s got his bounce back.”

What’s next?

Notre Dame, noon Dec. 21, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse

After a tough stretch, the Hoosiers can take a breath — eight days, to be exact — and get ready for their next non-conference game.

“We have some time to recover physically,” Miller said. “We’ll get back to work. But we have to be energized for the Notre Dame game when the time comes.”

IU will need to be prepared for a clean game. Coming into the weekend, Notre Dame ranked tops in the country in fewest fouls (455) and second in fewest turnovers (306).

For a Hoosier squad that likes to work in transition and get to the free throw line, that’s a concern.