Isn’t it funny how often storylines change in college basketball?
A week ago, Indiana was coming off of its eighth straight loss to Purdue, it had fans calling for Archie Miller’s head, and the Purdue social media team was posting graphics of Assembly Hall with the Boilermakers logo at midcourt.
Now, after a thrilling 81-69 upset win over fourth-ranked Iowa on Thursday night, Indiana enters its toughest stretch of the season with excitement, rather than dread.
In the immediate aftermath of this win, in which IU put together 23-3 run during more than nine minutes of the second half, fans are left scratching their heads. What changed?
It seems clear that getting a week off was hugely important.
“It was more of a reset,” sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “Coming off the loss to Purdue, we were kind of a lost team.”
It isn’t often teams get to take a week off. The toll of any season, much less a COVID-19 season, is immense. Perhaps the chance to get a small respite helped this team overcome some of its struggles and exorcise some of its demons in that second half.
For much of the game Thursday night, the Hawkeyes and Hoosiers seemed to be locked in a classic Miller-era IU game.
During the first 28 minutes, that sinking feeling IU fans know all too well began to set in as Iowa led by six to eight points.
Indiana appeared to be headed for a close-but-not-quite loss to a top-ranked Iowa team, a disappointing performance by the guards, and Archie Miller speaking postgame with that familiar sense of frustration.
But around the 12-minute mark in the second half, the team that has so often come up empty in big spots disappeared, and a new Hoosier team showed up, turning up the heat and absolutely taking over the home stretch of the game.
Perhaps it was the first-half injury to CJ Fredrick, as the FS1 play-by-play crew postulated. Maybe it was just not Iowa’s night. After all, Hawkeyes point guard Jordan Bohannan went scoreless on 0-9 shooting.
Or maybe, just maybe, Indiana and Archie Miller unlocked the sheer dominance they knew they were capable of defensively.
This is not some fluky off night from the Hawkeyes. Iowa doesn’t have off nights. This was Indiana holding the nation’s most explosive offense to zero field goals from the 12:00 minute mark until there was just one minute left in the game.
And over the course of asserting their defensive dominance, Indiana tapped into something they previously had not discovered: offensive rhythm.
All of a sudden, defensive stops began to lead to offensive baskets. The Hoosiers finally exploited a soft Iowa zone, moving the ball around, knocking down shots, and taking advantage of the Hawkeyes’ concentration lapses.
“We kept scoring,” Miller said. “We opened up the lid and were able to make some plays offensively.”
Trayce Jackson-Davis was his usual dominant self, and absolutely lived up to the hype of his matchup with preseason National Player of the Year Luka Garza.
At times the matchup on the interior felt like Ali-Frazier: Garza would drop in one of his mechanical baby hooks, and Jackson-Davis would respond with a leaping finish, even using his right hand multiple times. The Hoosier big man finished with 23 points and seven rebounds.
What was so astounding about this huge IU run down the stretch was the fact that Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson were both on the bench.
With the game tied at 55 and both frontcourt players glued to the bench, Indiana made five straight baskets, getting two makes from freshman Jordan Geronimo, and a basket each from Al Durham, Armaan Franklin, and Jerome Hunter.
The offensive diversity that the Hoosiers displayed, sharing the ball and letting their role players go to work, is something that hasn’t been apparent this season.
And more important still was the emergence of Rob Phinisee, the much-maligned point guard who stepped up in that second half when IU needed it most. He has looked more comfortable in recent games, but tonight Phinisee grabbed ahold of this game and never let go, suffocating Bohannon on defense and orchestrating the zone-beating offense on the other end.
“Rob was terrific defensively, Miller said.” “We were so spread out against Purdue and left each other on islands. The defensive performance by Phinisee spearheaded our team.”
Phinisee added 18 points, and was joined by fellow guards Al Durham and Armaan Franklin, both of whom scored in double digits.
Despite major rebounding deficiencies (IU was out-rebounded 46-32) and poor free throw shooting (21-35 from the charity stripe) Indiana found a way to flip the switch and turn on a gear not previously seen this season.
With six of their last 12 regular season games coming against currently-ranked opponents (and three against Michigan State and Purdue), Indiana will need more runs like Thursday’s second half. And while they may not get many more weeks off, they do now possess a critical piece to the NCAA Tournament puzzle: an electrifying signature win.
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