Indiana bounced back from a disappointing performance Sunday afternoon against Michigan by dominating Penn State tonight, 74-57 in Bloomington. Indiana got out to a 46-17 lead at the half and at one point expanded the lead to 32 to points before taking its foot off the gas near the end of the second half. Penn State heated up from three in the second half, but Indiana maintained a comfortable lead throughout in what was one of its most impressive performances so far this season.
Here’s Three Things:
Mike Woodson knows what he’s doing
After Sunday’s game, Woodson started getting questions from the media about the starting lineup, presumably alluding to Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp, which I wrote about here. Rather than change things up, he said he would stick to his guns, which may have even been an understatement. After Rob Phinisee went down with an injury in the first half, Woodson refused to go deeper into the bench. Jordan Geronimo, Tamar Bates, and Trey Galloway were the only bench players who saw significant time, while both Parker Stewart and Miller Kopp played more tonight than in Sunday’s game.
Woodson doubling down on his more experienced guys paid dividends tonight, as Indiana came out with a sustained defensive energy and focus that it had rarely been able to achieve all year. Granted, there’s a bit of a talent and athleticism gap between Penn State and Michigan which certainly helps conceal some of their defensive limitations. Tonight was more about making a statement though, and Woodson did just that by leaning more heavily on his older players to avenge an ugly loss to Penn State 24 days ago.
Neither Kopp nor Stewart had career nights statistically, combining for just eight points on a pair of made threes, but they played a big part in setting the tone that Indiana needed to avoid another embarrassing loss in Assembly Hall. Kopp had a nice steal in the first half that led to a fast-break, then hit a three on a play drawn up for him in the second half.
After Rob went down in the first half with a non-contact lower leg injury, he had to be helped to the locker room by a couple of teammates, clearly unable to put any weight on his leg. Seeing him hurt right now is devastating, after a career performance in his first win against Purdue last week when he seemed to be finding the confidence he had as a freshman. He’s given so much to this program and had injury problems in the past, so you really have to hope it isn’t serious.
As noted above, Woodson did not go deeper into the bench in Rob’s absence. Khristian Lander has missed a few games recently with a leg injury of his own, so it’s unclear whether he was fully available for tonight’s game. Having Galloway back in the lineup might mean that Woodson doesn’t have to bring Lander in if he isn’t ready, as he’s been great at keeping the offense moving with his passing and driving abilities. He even hit a three tonight.
On the other hand, Rob was averaging over 20 minutes a game and many of those were with Galloway. According to Kenpom, six of Mike Woodson’s ten most frequent lineups involve both Phinisee and Galloway. Xavier Johnson is also already third on the team in minutes, averaging over 25 a game, so it’s unlikely that Woodson will want to ask much more of him. Tamar Bates looked good tonight, hitting two threes while adding an assist and block in 16 minutes, the most he’s played since Nebraska. If Lander isn’t ready and Phinisee misses significant time, Bates may be in line for a big increase in playing time.
It’s fun to win big
Part of being in basketball purgatory since 2016 meant that Indiana was incapable of ever winning comfortably, especially in the wake of a demoralizing loss like the Michigan game. Seeing Indiana respond in such a big way was so refreshing, and yet another sign that this team continues to improve. Indiana allowed just three more points in the first half against Penn State than they did against the Lousiana Ragin’ Cajuns in November and even shot well from three, hitting 10 of 13 tonight (I don’t know why they don’t shoot more when they are shooting well, but see point one about Mike Woodson).
Beating Penn State should not be an adventure and tonight it wasn’t. Here’s to hoping that we can get used to these kinds of games.