In the final three games of former Indiana guard Rob Phinisee’s career with the Hoosiers, in which he played a combined 42 minutes in two NCAA tournament games plus the team’s appearance in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, the senior went scoreless, having attempted just seven shots in the three appearances. It was, unfortunately for Phinisee, Indiana and fans of the program, arguably a representative end to an Indiana career that was filled with promise but never reached the consistency or expected heights for the No. 135 recruit in the 2018 recruiting class, largely outside of two memorable game-winners against in-state foes.
Phinisee’s senior season, and arguably his career, will almost assuredly be associated with his unexpected 20-point outburst against Purdue, then ranked No. 4 in the AP poll, inside Assembly Hall on Jan. 20, 2022, when Phinisee’s 3-pointer in the right corner helped the Hoosiers end a nine-game skid against the Boilermakers and provided a win that would help Indiana earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016.
The photos of the aftermath on Branch McCracken Court, from Phinisee being lifted to the skies by his fellow students to coach Mike Woodson grinning in a way that said more than any words ever could, will be remembered fondly. Phinisee’s game-winner against Butler in the Crossroads Classic as a freshman is the 1b to the 1a that is last season’s game against Purdue in Bloomington — two scenes of visceral emotion and jubilation for the program and its fans, as both navigated a years-long stretch of dwindling relevance and results.
But that game was one of just three last season in which Phinisee scored at least 10 points, along with his 10-point game against Northern Kentucky and his 13 points against Minnesota. Eight of his 19 3-pointers last season came in the wins over Purdue and Minnesota, when he made four in each game at a combined 8-for-16 clip that was far from representative of his career averages.
After averaging between 6.8 and 7.3 points in each of his first three seasons at Indiana, Phinisee’s scoring average dropped to 4.5 per game last season. He made one shot or fewer in 14 of his 25 appearances off the bench last season, when he transitioned from the typical starter at point guard to a role where he was exclusively a reserve after the addition of Pitt transfer Xavier Johnson.
Injuries played a role in disrupting Phinisee’s trajectory in college, starting from the concussion he suffered as a freshman. Last season he missed three consecutive games in November, then seven in the heart of Big Ten play, which included a five-game losing streak that helped land Indiana firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble.
When healthy, Phinisee was a bulldog of a perimeter defender — his 2.8-percent steal rate in Big Ten play as a sophomore was the fourth-best in the conference, per kenpom.com, if you’re looking for stats to support that notion — but he never posted a season average in which he was even average offensively in terms of his efficiency. His best offensive rating was during his freshman season at 96.0 and it declined year over year for the next three seasons, dropping to 83.5 last season. For reference, the national average is typically just above 100.
He only shot better than 40 percent from 2-point range once in his career (42.7 percent as a junior) and his best 3-point percentage was 33.3 percent as a sophomore. He was a 65-percent career free throw shooter at Indiana and he went to the line infrequently.
After last season, Phinisee entered the transfer portal and he announced his decision to transfer to Cincinnati, where he’ll still play at a high-major program but in a conference that’s clearly not as strong as the Big Ten. With Johnson’s return to Indiana for a fifth season of his own, the parting of ways arguably made sense for all sides, as the former four-star point guard who arrived in a recruiting class with Romeo Langford to play for Archie Miller endured an up-and-down four-year career at Indiana. He now gets the chance to try to put it all together — a completely healthy season, improved offensive efficiency and playmaking similar to his sophomore season, when he assisted on more than 28 percent of Indiana’s made baskets when he was on the floor.
Phinisee’s career at Indiana was marked by a couple tent pole moments, but to play out this metaphor, the canvas in between often sagged, even if it was often due to circumstances outside of his control.