You play exhibitions games to develop chemistry and work out the kinks.
For Indiana’s exhibition game on Tuesday night, name tags might have come in handy as well.
“Everyone early on kind of realized, boy, there’s a lot new guys out there, IU head coach Archie Miller said after an 84-54 win over Gannon University at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
Along with junior Justin Smith, Miller put a starting lineup on the floor that included three players new to the IU program (Joey Brunk, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Armaan Franklin) and another (Damezi Anderson) that saw limited action as a freshman last season.
“From the sidelines looking out there at times, you’re seeing Trayce and Joey and Armaan and Damezi and Jerome (Hunter), those guys are relatively new to what we’re doing and what’s going on in terms of the game, so you have to put it in perspective a little bit.”
The third year Hoosier head coach’s hand was forced to some extent due to upperclassmen and team captains Devonte Green (hamstring) and Al Durham (knee) being unable to play.
But at least one key piece of the puzzle was back earlier than expected.
Sophomore point guard Rob Phinisee came into the game with the first wave of substitutions at the under 16 minute timeout of the first half.
Phinisee has missed almost the entire month of October with an abdominal injury and appeared unlikely to play as recently as yesterday.
Miller indicated that the Lafayette native got in his first practice of the month on Monday.
“He’s had one practice basically since about October 4th, which was yesterday,” Miller said. “So he practiced yesterday, which was very little restriction and he did really well in practice. His comfort level with what he’s dealing with from his abdominal injuries and whatnot was increased.”
The decision was made to play Phinisee tonight to ensure that he will be ready to go next week when the real games start.
“For us if Rob doesn’t play tonight or get a little bit of action, we’re really starting to set him up where he’s, we’re not going to know how he feels after a game or whatnot.”
While seeing Phinisee on the floor was good news for IU, it was at that point when the substitution patterns began that things got sideways.
A 14-6 Indiana lead quickly turned into a 29-28 deficit to the Division II Golden Knights.
“As we subbed we had new players come in the game,” Miller said. “And my hope is that when we sub, as you look at our group it’s very little drop off, there’s very little change. The game changed with the substitution patterns.”
It really didn’t matter who was in the game in some respects, because with just two scholarship guards available, nothing was going to feel natural on this night.
“We had, at times, guys that had not practiced or played in the positions they were playing in the game, Miller said.
“From a defensive standpoint at times you looked out there and you see Justin and Jerome, those guys are guarding 6-foot guards and that’s the first time they have probably ever done that, so it was a little bit where we’re not applying as much pressure as you want to but realize you have forwards in there guarding perimeter players,” Miller said.
Not only were forwards forced to guard out of position, Franklin assumed primarily ball handling duties despite not really having experience in that role.
“Missing our backcourt and our most experienced guys, and even having Rob for just basically about three windows in the game to play about 12 minutes was all we were going to have him for, hopefully as they get back that alleviates some of that pressure.”
Fortunately for Miller and his squad, things got better in this game.
After the 29-28 deficit, IU outscored Gannon 56-25 the rest of the way with the offense leading the way.
“I thought the guys did a much better job coming out in the second half,” Miller said. “The ball movement was way better. We had a lot of different guys touching it and moving it and we were able to establish what we aspire to be which is a team that can get fouled, and a team that can play with a lot of different guys out there together.”
Indiana ended up with five different players in double figures.
Smith led the way with 18 points on a highly efficient 5-for-5 night from the field and 8-for-9 performance from the free throw line.
True freshmen Jackson-Davis and Franklin also reached double figures with 12 points apiece, and redshirt sophomore Race Thompson and Anderson each added 10.
For now it isn’t about wins and losses. That comes next week.
Indiana will likely still be finding their way when they open the 2019-20 season next Tuesday at home against Western Illinois.
Miller knows there is much work to be done, but he still likes the potential of his third Hoosier squad.
“I’m not at all naive to think that this team right now is anywhere near capable or where it’s supposed to be or where it can be, but I’m still excited about our depth, I’m still excited about how many guys we have that we can throw in there that I think can really help us play,” Miller said.
See also: Post game reaction from Miller, Smith and Anderson
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