In what has been a roller coaster season thus far the hopes of IU fans have swung up and down. There have been huge wins over good teams and losing streaks that felt like they would never end. Those hopes are up again and in a matchup with Illinois on the road that could easily have turned into a letdown the Hoosiers managed to keep their momentum going with a 92-74 win on Thursday night.
The Indiana offense was firing on all cylinders, putting up its highest point total since a December win over Jacksonville. IU put up its first 40+ point half against a power conference opponent since the Marquette game all the way back in November.
The win keeps IU’s NCAA Tournament hopes alive and in theory the Hoosiers could play themselves into the Big Dance, but it wouldn’t hurt to get some help from other teams.
1. Juwan Morgan...hello
IU’s senior leader has had a bit of a rough time recently scoring the basketball. Coming into Thursday’s matchup with the Illini he had broken double digits scoring in just three of his last eight games and none of those came back-to-back. After scoring 16 points over the last two games Morgan filled it up against Illinois, racking up 20 points on 9-14 shooting from the field. That total is the highest the forward has notched since January when the Hoosiers traveled to Ann Arbor. He also grabbed nine boards and tacked on a block. If this team is going to make the tournament Morgan is going to have to play the way we all know he can, so hopefully for Hoosier fans Thursday night was just the start for the big man.
2. Rob Phinisee...also hello
Early in the season a major storyline was who would become the third scoring option for this IU team behind Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford. There was a camp that believed Phinisee was the guy. There was a moment of vindication for plenty of people when Phinisee knocked down a deep game-winning three against Butler. Then Phinisee got a concussion. That led to him missing or playing a diminished role in a number of games and when he finally got back on the court in a full capacity he didn’t look the same. During conference play he’s basically done what you would expect of a freshman guard—he’s shown flashes of talent while being a little inconsistent. He had a big moment in IU’a most recent upset of Michigan State and then on Thursday he went off. The Lafayette native put up 17 points on 7-10 shooting and tallied five assists without a turnover. That was huge for the Hoosiers. Phinisee doesn’t have to put up that particular statline every night, but if he can hit a groove here late in the season that could be a big deal for IU.
3. Three-Point Shooting
Indiana has not been good at shooting three-pointers this season. As a team the Hoosiers have shot 31.2 percent from beyond the arc, averaging a 5.9-19 shooting night per game. In the first half IU went 6-17 from downtown which is a marked improvement on the norm. It’s not a huge difference, but it takes the Hoosiers from being a bad shooting team to an average shooting team. If the Hoosiers can just be an average shooting team through the end of the season it would almost certainly do wonders for their offense.
So the train keeps rolling. A season that seemed dead has come back to life thanks to three straight wins including a pair over ranked opponents. The Hoosiers have taken one step closer to an NCAA Tournament berth, the next step being (checks notes) a home matchup with rutger on senior day. Surely nothing bad will happen there. Nope, not a chance.