Much like the befuddling 2018-19 Hoosiers had Michigan State’s number, this year’s Indiana team simply will not lose to Iowa.
Never mind that IU led for only four minutes of Sunday’s matinee at Assembly Hall, or that its starting backcourt was an absolute mess for most of the afternoon, the Hoosiers came from behind to score a surprising 67-65 victory over Fran McCaffery’s flailing Hawkeyes.
(*whispers* and a big, big thanks to Fran McCaffery for sitting Luka Garza for the final 12:30 of the first half)
Here are Three Things:
Starting guards redeem themselves late
What a strange game, one that neither team seemed all that interested in winning. Seriously, this had all the makings of another regrettable home loss for the Hoosiers, primarily due to the lack of impact from their lead guards.
Al Durham, Armaan Franklin and Rob Phinisee combined to shoot just 4-for-26 from the field, with Durham finishing as a minus-13 for the day, Franklin ending up at minus-two and Phinisee posting a minus-five. Yuck. And yet, Phinisee and Franklin teamed up for two of the biggest shots of the day, a game-tying 3-ball from the former and a looooooong game-winning two from the latter with one second remaining in regulation. Just as everyone expected.
Look, it’s still hard to trust Indiana’s guard play, which has been unreliable all year due to the ongoing struggles and frustrating limitations of the team’s most experienced players. A lot of the guys on this team just sort of are what they are at this point. But it’s certainly a welcome development to see Indiana’s guards dig down and help the team do what it hasn’t done often enough this winter: finish.
Keep playing the freshmen
Game-changing shots deserve credit, of course. But we ought to be careful to temper the praise. The only reason Phinisee and Franklin were in positions to hit those shots was because the program’s youngest players spent the bulk of Sunday afternoon bailing them out.
Indiana’s best lineups on Sunday were the ones with first-year players on the floor. The freshmen, after all, were the reason Indiana was able to chip away at Iowa’s 13-point first-half lead, with big 3-pointers from Anthony Leal and Khristian Lander keying the comeback and putting IU in front at the break. All told, the four freshmen — Leal, Lander, Jordan Geronimo and Trey Galloway — combined for 19 points, with each of them contributing in other ways, too. Hell, Lander hit just the one 3-pointer, but ended the day as a plus-13 across his 15 minutes on the floor.
These guys aren’t without their faults, either. Galloway, for example, too often dribbles out of open looks, and Lander’s long-range shooting is still very much an adventure. But it’s understandable — even acceptable. They’re freshmen. Over the past couple weeks, that class has turned into spark plugs for a program that needs the jolt.
Race Thompson was IU’s most valuable player ... again
Trayce Jackson-Davis led the team in scoring (17 points) and rebounding (12 boards), and Phinisee and Franklin hit the clutch shots. But it was Thompson who buoyed the Hoosiers from start to finish, providing a steady presence on both ends of the floor.
To be clear, he was good all day — but especially late. He scored three points in the final three minutes, authoring a pretty move to squeeze around Luka Garza for a crucial basket in the waning minutes. Then, moments later on the defensive end, Thompson stood tall and took on the Iowa big man as he backed his way toward the basket, forcing Garza to toss up an ugly, off-balance shot that missed the mark.
This wasn’t the first time Thompson stepped forward to steady things during an otherwise uneven team game this season. As valuable as his offensive and defensive production was on Sunday, he continues to supply IU with the rarest of qualities: consistency.