Freshman guard Rob Phinisee spent 28 minutes of game time Thursday night on the court at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. But more specifically, he spent most of that time in the paint, the designated area horizontally extending from the basket, driving toward it on offense and gathering rebounds on defense.
IU Coach Archie Miller noticed this, as did Phinisee's IU teammates. They all praised the production of the Lafayette, Indiana, native in IU's 96-62 exhibition win against the University of Southern Indiana.
"Coming in as a freshman, he's the strongest freshman I've ever seen," junior guard Johnny Jager said. "That dude is built and he's tough."
With junior guard Devonte Green out for the game due to a thigh bruise, Phinisee's playing time increased. He put his minutes to good use, scoring 13 points and dishing out four assists in the victory.
"I think Rob really had some nice plays," Miller said. "With Rob what we're trying to do is get him to see the floor a bit earlier in transition to get guys like Romeo and Juwan the ball ahead of the defense, where they have some more room to attack."
But, the most attention-grabbing statistic was his lack of turnovers. Phinisee had none against the Screaming Eagles, as the Hoosiers outscored their NCAA Division II opponents by 18 points while he was on the court.
"He's taking advantage of opportunity," Miller said. "Right now, it's come to the level that he's that man up. I think you saw a bit of a glimpse of what we see every single day. For the most part, he's been pretty impressive."
Phinisee also excelled defensively for IU. He was aggressive, playing tight defense against Southern Indiana's guards, much like his IU teammate Romeo Langford did.
Langford, another highly-touted freshman guard for the Hoosiers, also had 13 points, but five of them came from the free throw line. His drives toward the Southern Indiana basket drew contact, showing his speed and decision-making is already up-to-speed for the college game.
"Romeo's a naturally gifted scorer," Miller said. "He has to learn how to play through contact better, but he's a natural transition type of a player."
Langford was another promising defensive presence for the Hoosiers on a night in which the decreased level of competition should be taken into account. Of Langford's five rebounds in the game, four were defensive rebounds, and he also had four steals, including one which led to a breakaway dunk in the first half.
"Naturally, he's very gifted in the passing lane and he has really long arms," Miller said. "So he can get his hands on a lot of balls and deflections."
There was a drop-off in IU's defensive intensity during following halftime, though. Southern Indiana shot a dismal 7-28 from the field in the first half, only to bounce back with a 15-33 shooting performance in the second period.
Miller attributed this to fatigue and bad transition defense from his team, as the Hoosiers struggled to make the proper defensive switches after players like Langford and Phinisee made offensive plays in the paint.
Growing pains are to be expected from IU's freshman class, but the displays by Langford, and Phinisee on Thursday were indicative of what also takes place in practice, according to sophomore forward Justin Smith.
"He's done a good job as a freshman of coming in and playing tough," Smith said about Phinisee. "It's tough as a freshman to come in and play well defensively and kind of run the team, but he's done a really good job with it so far."
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