Khalil Iverson had been a thorn in Romeo Langford’s side for the entire game.
At the end of regulation, Indiana’s star freshman had 13 points (4 under his average) on just 4 of 10 shooting from the field. Openings were hard to find, and shots were hard to come by against Wisconsin’s senior guard.
Iverson was playing with good energy on both ends of the floor and was overplaying Langford’s right hand off the dribble all night, and doing so with a reasonably high degree of effectiveness.
After 50 minutes of game action, it is sometimes the tiniest of nuances that becomes the difference between winning and losing.
IU freshman point guard Rob Phinisee earned a reputation in December as “Big Shot Bob,” after hitting several key shots late in games including an unforgettable buzzer beater to take down Butler.
On Tuesday night against Wisconsin, it wasn’t a big shot from Phinisee that helped win the game.
Enter “Big Phake Phinisee?”
As you know by now, Romeo Langford got past Iverson for the game winning shot in double overtime. Irrespective of the details, that was a big time moment for Langford, who had missed some critical shots late against Iowa and Ohio State that could have changed the outcome of those games.
Not only did Langford make the shot on Tuesday night against Wisconsin — he didn’t settle for a three-pointer like he has done in other late game moments.
But when Langford was asked about his game-winner, he didn’t hesitate to first point to why the slightest of windows opened up for his drive to the basket —
“Rob came up to the screen, and they messed up the read on it. I just saw a lane to get to the basket, and that’s just what I did,” Langford said after the win over Wisconsin on Tuesday night.
You can watch the final play again here. But instead of watching Langford, watch Phinisee — and watch Iverson.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 27, 2019
When Iverson is attempting to guard an elite talent like Langford, he is not only watching the ball, he is playing with his head on a swivel, watching for screens that he needs to fight through or switch.
In a perfectly orchestrated moment, the mere show of a screen by Phinisee was enough to get Iverson to rock back on his heels in anticipation of going under the screen — that never was. The action also had the effect of Phinisee’s man, D’Mitrick Trice, disrupting Iverson’s recovery path.
Without hesitation, Langford was gone as soon as Iverson reacted, and too fast for the help that had been drawn away just enough by De’Ron Davis clearing out of the lane.
For a head coach that has seen his team struggle to execute down the stretch in recent games, it was a thing of beauty to watch as they nailed the details with precision —
“Rob did a great job,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said. “We asked Rob to come up and interfere a little bit and get out. The minute he did that, I thought their guy just flinched just a quick second. And the minute he did it, I knew Romeo’s shoulder was going to get by him, just a matter of whether he’d make it or not.”
You cannot downplay the growth by Langford either. It wasn’t the same offensive scheme, but this was exactly the decision he didn’t make in the final seconds of regulation against Iowa last Friday —
“He definitely made an aggressive play,” Miller said. “We talked about it after the Iowa game. Don’t settle. Get to the rim. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but he made a great play on the finish.”
While Langford first acknowledged the efforts of his teammates to set the play up, he expressed relief and highlighted his willingness to grow as a player when quizzed further on his big moment —
“I mean, just finally I hit one,” Langford said. “I know the past two times I had it in my hand at the end of the game, it didn’t come out as we planned. I just learned from mistakes in the past two, settling for a jump shot, and I felt like they couldn’t stop me getting to the rim. That’s exactly what I did, and I made the shot.”
As Langford, Phinisee and Race Thompson sat down in front of the media after the game, you were reminded how you young this team is with three freshman staring back at you.
Yes, they are young. Yes, there have been setbacks — both with injuries and losses. Lots of losses.
But at least on this night, with the team as healthy as it has been all year, we saw a glimmer of the promise that once surrounded these Hoosiers.
It may not be enough to save the season, but these freshmen are learning, and this team is coming together when they very easily could have mailed it in and moved on to next season.
No, this team hasn’t quit. And it all starts with executing on the tiniest of details.
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