The Hoosiers have a tough task on Saturday to slow down a hot Maryland backcourt. And they’ll have to do it without one of their best on-ball defenders.
Head coach Mike Woodson announced via Zoom Friday point guard Rob Phinisee will not play at Maryland due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Phinisee suffered the injury on Wednesday in the win over Penn State. He cut awkwardly and had to be carried off by teammates. Phinisee is listed as day-to-day according to his coach.
It is a big blow for the Hoosiers, especially with the Maryland backcourt performing much better as of late. In their last game against Rutgers, shooting guard Eric Ayala dropped 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting with five three-pointers. He also added eight rebounds and three assists.
Point guard Fatts Russell added 23 points on 7-of-16 shooting with five threes also. The duo led the Terrapins (11-9, 3-6) to a 68-60 road win over the Scarlet Knights.
“This is one of the few games where we’ve had two guys go off like this offensively throughout the course of the season. Usually it’s one guy going off, and few other guys are contributing their normal averages. So when we get the guards to score like this, we’re a dangerous team,” interim Maryland coach Danny Manning told reporters after the Rutgers win.
The Indiana defense has also been struggling against ball screen coverages as of late. Against Michigan, their rotations were exposed and it led to a three-point barrage. The Wolverines managed to shoot 11-of-17 for 64.6 percent from beyond the arc.
The defense was better in the first half against Penn State and forced the Nittany Lions to shoot 5-of-30 for 16.7 percent from the field and 1-of-10 from three to go along with seven turnovers. But the defense was lackadaisical at best in the second half while playing with a 29-point halftime lead.
The Terrapins run a free-flowing spaced offense that allows their guards to create and hunt for their shots. However, it is not just the backcourt that is capable of scoring inside and out.
Donta Scott is a nimble six-foot-seven-inch forward who can attack off the dribble. He is averaging 12.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Although, he was limited to just three points against Rutgers. He has also shown flashes of stretching the floor but is shooting just 30.5 percent from beyond the arc.
“It’s a big dribble drive team, a big isolation team, so I mean, it’s no surprise. We’ve got to defend off the dribble, and we’ve got to do it for 40 minutes,” added the first-year head coach.
In the past, Woodson would utilize a lineup of Phinisee and Xavier Johnson to defend screens against teams that emphasize the dribble drive. When Notre Dame was having success in December, Woodson went with the two point guard approach.
“Both of them are pretty good defenders,” Woodson said of playing Johnson and Phinisee together after the Notre Dame gam. “They defend when they want to defend, and Rob is a hell of a defender. So, I mean, I was looking for defense and two guys to kind of run our team. That’s what I was looking for, and I thought they did a pretty good job in both areas I thought.”
However, since Phinisee is out, it is going to be a committee effort on Saturday in College Park. The former New York Knicks coach also pointed out that Tamar Bates and Trey Galloway could replace Phinisee and potentially play some point guard.
If Johnson can stick with Russell, then Galloway and Bates might be a better matchup for the 6-foot-five-inch two-guard Ayala when Woodson looks to the bench.
“The bottom line is when you’re shorthanded, guys that haven’t gotten a lot of minutes, then you’ve got to start thinking about minutes for those guys,” said Woodson.
“Rob was playing anywhere from 18 to 20 minutes, so Scoop (Bates) and Gallo (Galloway) and Anthony (Leal) might even get thrown in there. When your name is called, you’ve got to be ready to play. It’s just that simple.”
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