‘We’re going to pull this thing out’: How associate head coach Yasir Rosemond guided Indiana basketball to victory

MINNEAPOLIS — Even though Mike Woodson was not with Indiana in Minnesota, the Hoosiers never panicked.

IU found out Wednesday morning that its head coach would stay back while recovering from COVID-19. Associate head coach Yasir Rosemond took the figurative — and, because of the raised floor at Williams Arena, the literal — head coach pedestal.

And IU’s sideline didn’t operate differently than normal. The players worked through a tight Big Ten road game with Rosemond as if he’s been at the helm all season.

There were moments where it felt like last-place Minnesota would pull this game out. But Indiana never wavered. The Hoosiers showed no signs of nerves. They trusted Rosemond. And that poise and faith paid off, as Indiana outlasted the Golden Gophers 61-57.

“We didn’t know that coach Woodson wasn’t coaching until this morning. And we weren’t even nervous,” Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “We knew coach Ya had it covered. We have a great staff.”

Rosemond wasn’t running the show completely alone. He said assistant coaches Kenya Hunter and Brian Walsh handled substitutions, so he could focus on the game’s flow, coaching the team on the floor, and executing the game plan.

He wouldn’t always be the next coach in line for that position if Woodson was unavailable. Rosemond said Woodson has made clear that if he was ever ejected or otherwise removed from a game, head coaching duties would fall to whoever put together that game’s scouting report. And Rosemond was in charge of this game plan.

Rosemond kept the Hoosiers focused when Minnesota’s zone defense kept them at bay in stretches, helped them get locked in defensively at the end of the game, and reassured them when the game hung in the balance.

This was the first time he’d ever stepped in as head coach, after 16 years as an assistant. And this was a tricky game to be thrown into, a conference road game against a team with little to lose. But he leaned on his own experiences and trusted his instincts.

“In timeouts, I just tried to stay calm. I always know, as a player, I always used to look at my coach and make sure he was calm. When he was calm, it made us calm,” Rosemond said. “So I was just trying to keep the guys calm in the huddle and just kept telling them, ‘We’re going to pull this thing out.'”

Rosemond, Walsh, and Hunter didn’t operate wholly differently than Woodson would’ve. They didn’t rush to call a timeout anytime Minnesota went on a run — in fact, IU only used one of its four timeouts in response to a Gophers surge.

And they let players work through difficult stretches instead of quickly replacing them. That did lead to, perhaps, a tighter rotation than IU has utilized in many games this season.

Jordan Geronimo, who’d started the previous five games with Race Thompson injured, played just six minutes off the bench as the senior returned to the lineup. Malik Reneau, who led Indiana with 10 points at halftime, saw the court for only 25 seconds in the second half. Tamar Bates played 10 minutes, his fewest in a game all season.

But Woodson has often been inclined to ride a hot hand, and here, that meant sticking with IU’s seniors. Jackson-Davis turned in another herculean performance, recording IU’s first 20-point, 20-rebound game since D.J. White in 2008. Miller Kopp scored in double figures for the first time in over a month, and made some important defensive plays late in the game. And Thompson, though still limited offensively, played a key role in Indiana’s defense. He led the team in plus/minus at plus-nine.

Rosemond spoke with his mentor, Louisville head coach Kenny Payne, and Woodson on the phone ahead of the game for advice ahead of his first head coaching opportunity. He said Woodson, in particular, reassured him — even giving a green light to run some of his own plays out of timeouts.

“Coach Woodson, he gives me a whole lot of confidence,” Rosemond said. “I think he leans on me for a lot of things; he leans on all of his assistants. Going into the game, he gave me all the confidence in the world to just say, ‘Hey man, go have fun, just make sure you keep the guys together and just do what we do.'”

IU won this game, in the end, with its defense. And Rosemond knew that’s what they had to do. The Golden Gophers took a three-point lead on free throws by Taurus Samuels following the final media timeout, and those were their last points of the game. IU held Minnesota scoreless for the final 3:20.

That, at its core, is Indiana’s identity. Leaning on its defense when it matters most.

That’s how Woodson would have approached the end of this game at Minnesota. Rosemond did the same. And It led to Indiana’s fourth consecutive victory, and a jubilant postgame celebration with a team that was thrilled for its coach.

“At the end of the day, he did a great job. Credit to him,” Jackson-Davis said. “I’m glad we got that dub for him.”

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