Indiana took care of business today, beating Minnesota 73-60 in Assembly Hall in what could easily have been a letdown game for a relatively unproven Indiana squad. Vegas, Kenpom, and Bart Torvik all liked the Hoosiers today, but they were also favored against Penn State and managed to lose that game. With the victory, Indiana remains undefeated at home this season.
Here’s three things we learned from today’s game:
Rob is Back
I’ve been saying it for a few games now, but Rob Phinisee’s performance tonight confirmed that he has found some new confidence in his game. Phinisee scored 13 points tonight on four of nine shooting from deep, and only one of those nine attempts came in the second half. The last time he attempted even five threes in a game was in the season opener against Eastern Michigan and his four makes tonight tie a career-best for Phinisee as a Hoosier. He had four assists, three rebounds, and two steals in the game.
Indiana was going to need a boost from the backcourt, especially since Minnesota, like many teams will this year, decided to go all in on guarding Trayce Jackson-Davis. Phinisee’s recent three-point shooting also gives Woodson the option to play him more off ball, meaning he can leave Xavier Johnson on the floor and go with a smaller lineup when needed. And he’s still, of course, defending at a high level.
Indiana didn’t quit
Minnesota got off to a hot start in this game, making four out of their first five shots and briefly got up to a five point lead about five minutes into the game. Too many times in the last few seasons, Indiana would get out to a slow start like this and then never end up turning it on, so this was concerning. By halftime though, Indiana had a ten point lead, thanks to hot three-point shooting from Rob Phinisee and Parker Stewart.
Things got dicey again in the second half when Minnesota came back and eventually took the lead with a little over eleven minutes to play. At that point, I was pretty sure that at the very least, we would be in for a tight game that came down to the final seconds. Indiana’s defense found another gear though and held the Gophers to just five points in the next eight minutes of game time. While it would have been great to see them play well for the full 40 minutes, it was nice to see this team take the punches, then rally behind the defense to rebuild a comfortable lead.
Indiana had five players score in the double figures tonight, including a team-high 14 from Xavier Johnson, who also made a pair of threes. Phinisee and Trayce Jackson-Davis each had 13, Race Thompson had 10, and Parker Stewart finished with 12. Miller Kopp was the only starter to score fewer than 10 points and he took just three shots all game, making one of his two three-pointers.
For the past four or five years, the rest of the Big Ten has found success by committing to defending the post while daring our guards to shoot, just like Minnesota did today. Until the Hoosiers can show that they can shoot like this at a consistent level, other teams will continue to defend that way. That means that Indiana is going to have to find ways to win that do not involve Trayce going for 25 like he did the other night against Ohio State. Sure, he will still have some monster games that turn into undeserved wins for Indiana. But if they want to break out of the perennial 9-12 seed territory, they’ll need to win more games the way they did today, with balanced scoring.