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Three Things: Indiana 87, Penn State 85

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Penn State kept coming and IU just barely held on in overtime

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 23 Penn State at Indiana Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Indiana claimed its first Big Ten win of the season on Wednesday, but just barely.

Alright. Let’s unpack the 87-85 overtime survival effort:

Don’t know how to feel about this one? Yeah. You’re probably not alone.

A win is a win, right? Sure. But when it looks like that … it really challenges the idea. Penn State isn’t a terrible team, but the Nittany Lions aren’t a good one either. They’re maybe OK? Meanwhile, the supporting evidence to this point suggests that IU is, on balance, maybe OK-plus.

Against a Lamar Stevens-less Penn State team, one guided by an interim coach, Indiana let a 12-point second-half lead evaporate and needed overtime to secure a two-point victory. That doesn’t inspire much confidence for what’s to come in 2021, especially considering the daunting stretch that awaits IU in the middle of next month. In a game the Hoosiers led for 38 minutes, Indiana had two or three opportunities to bury the Lions and put this one out of reach. At least, that’s what a good team would have done. Instead, IU messed around and Penn State, with its affinity to toss up long-range shots, kept coming.

After Penn State tied it at 53-all seven minutes into the second period, IU seemingly found the separation it had been looking for with a 13-1 run that tilted momentum to the Hoosiers’ side and forced Penn State to take a break and talk it over. From there, Penn State shot its way back. If not for a few generous calls by the officials, IU may not have survived regulation.

You’ve seen this game before — this was basically a carbon copy of the Nebraska game last December — and you’ll surely see it again because this program is cyclical in the worst ways. It is aggressively middling, often predictable, rigid and uninspiring. But hey. At least they won this time.

The veteran guards came to play

For the first time in a long time, Indiana had a backcourt it could feel good about. Al Durham scored 18 points, Rob Phinisee added 11 — including the game winner — and Armaan Franklin posted 16 for the Hoosiers. Trey Galloway, too, was excellent across his 36 minutes of play, tying for the team-lead with a plus-7 on the night and injecting some energy and fluidity into IU’s offense.

But it was the play of Durham and Phinisee that stood out after several straight duds. The first half saw Durham author some of his best basketball of the season. No, that’s not saying a whole lot considering the body of work, but Durham was good. And good for him. He was aggressive, he drove with purpose, he stepped into shots along the perimeter and finished the first half with a team-best 12 points. And in a game where IU uncharacteristically struggled on defense, Phinisee also gave IU steady, clutch play on that end of the floor. Best of all, he bailed Indiana out of an ugly end-of-OT possession that was going nowhere with an elbow jumper that proved to be the difference.

Without question, Durham and Phinisee needed a night like this. We’ll see if it carries over.

Defensive letdown

Anyone who so much as looked at a stat sheet ahead of this game knew what Penn State was going to do—hoist a ton of 3-pointers. That’s exactly what they did, and it was exactly what almost led to an embarrassing Indiana loss in Bloomington.

Penn State made 12 of its 28 3-point attempts, including seven in the second half as it whittled away at IU’s double-digit advantage. But it wasn’t just Penn State’s perimeter shooting that gave the Hoosiers trouble, as the Lions scored at a rate of 1.46 points per possession over the final 20 minutes of regulation. They did so with a concerning number of straight drives to the rim, breaking down and weaving through a porous IU defense that ended up giving up 1.14 points per possession on the night — the Hoosiers’ worst mark of the year.

Wednesday was far below the standard Indiana has set for itself on defense. It was enough but, like a lot of things on this night, just barely.