BLOOMINGTON, IN - JANUARY 20, 2022 - guard Rob Phinisee #1 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the game between the Purdue Boilermakers and the Indiana Hoosiers at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN. Photo By Gracie Farrell

Rob Phinisee can walk tall in Lafayette — “We finally beat Purdue”

From this day forward, Indiana’s 68-65 win over Purdue on Thursday will likely be referred to as “The Rob Phinisee game.”

It seemed as if the Hoosiers’ hopes of breaking their nine-game losing streak to Purdue were dwindling away. The streak would have extended to ten. It would also have been the seventh straight loss of Phinisee’s career to the Boilermakers.

As a Lafayette native, Phinisee simply refused to let that happen.  For him, it is personal.

“Every time I go home, people always talk trash to me. I just finally needed to get one,” Phinisee said after emerging from a post-game court storm on the Branch McCracken Court.

For a while it looked like Phinisee would return home with his tail between his legs yet again.

Indiana was down 16-8 early and was shooting just 3-of-12 from the field. Preseason All-American Trayce Jackson was also sentenced to the bench with two early fouls.

Then, Phinisee checked in and rewrote history.

Phinisee was an instant impact on both ends of the floor. He opened the game by letting Eric Hunter Jr. blow past him but then recovered for the block. He then helped Michael Durr in the low-post against Trevion Williams and pick-pocketed the Purdue big man. Then Phinisee opened his scoring for the night with a step-back three after the steal.

In the first half, it seemed like Phinisee was shooting fish in a barrel. He managed 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting with three 3-pointers. In the previous two games, he only had two points and shot a combined 1-of-8 from the field. However, head coach Mike Woodson still pressured him to stay aggressive and shoot.

The two had a heart-to-heart before the game.

“Rob and I had a beautiful conversation hours before the ball game, and it was just nice to see how he stepped out and performed. It was beautiful to watch,” Woodson said.

The first year head coach wouldn’t reveal the specifics of the conversation, but whatever he said had Phinisee feeling invincible.

“In the first half, I felt like every time I shot the ball it was going to go in. Coach Woodson, from the jump he knew I struggled last year. He has been saying all the time that he’s going to keep believing in me and keep instilling confidence in me. I played my heart out today, played with my heart on my sleeve tonight,” Phinisee said.

Phinisee wasn’t the only point guard who managed to impact the game. Xavier Johnson also had arguably the best game of his career at IU. The Pitt transfer scored 18 points on 7-of-17 shooting with two threes. Johnson also added two assists.

Besides scoring, the duo managed to limit turnovers. Phinisee and Johnson both did not turn the ball over. The Hoosiers only had three turnovers as a team. Meanwhile, Purdue had 12, which led to 15 points off those miscues. Phinisee was responsible for four of them with four steals.

Michael Durr also was a huge factor defensively. After stepping in and playing extended minutes in place of Jackson-Davis, Durr managed to help hold midseason Wooden Award watch listers Zach Edey and Trevion Williams to just 14 combined points.

“If we can make teams go through our half court defense, that’s when we’re really at our best where we’re not giving a lot of things over the top or giving layups up or quick strikes, as we call them, for threes,” Woodson said of the defensive performance.

“If you go through our half court, then we’ve got a chance of defending a possession, and I thought the first half, man, was as good as we defended. Ohio State was pretty damn good too, but tonight the first half was really, really good.”

Phinisee would cool down and score just three points in the second half. But, his only basket was the biggest one of the game.

The Hoosiers were down two with 25 seconds left. With one timeout to draw up a play, Woodson said that Phinisee came up to him and asked for the shot. And Woodson drew up a play to get his senior guard a shot. Phinisee came off a double screen and had an open look but missed. But the ball stayed with IU.

Despite missing the shot, Woodson decided to go back to him. Again Phinisee received a screen off the in-bounds play, but this time he nailed the biggest shot in his career and put the Hoosiers back ahead by one. After not allowing a go-ahead basket, Trayce Jackson-Davis would hit two free throws to put Indiana up by three and seal the win.

Following the final buzzer, Hoosier fans stormed the court to celebrate the win over their rivals and the No. 4 ranked team in the nation. Above all the fans was Phinisee. He was finally the hometown hero after three and a half up-and-down years.

“It’s just something I won’t ever forget,” Phinisee said of the moment.

“Just these fans, they’ve supported me through everything, so I just want to say thank you. The crowd tonight was huge. They really boosted us. That moment is a moment I will never forget.”

And it was a moment that will allow him to come home with his head held high.

“Finally,” Phinisee said.  “We finally beat Purdue.”

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