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Three takeaways as IU men's basketball easily defeated Montana State


Senior forward Juwan Morgan scores against Montana State on Nov. 9 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Morgan scored 14 out of the 80 points, and IU defeated Montana State 80-35. Anna Tiplick

So far, so good for the IU men’s basketball team. 

The Hoosiers picked up their second win of the 2018-19 campaign with an 80-35 drubbing of Montana State on Friday night.

Though Montana State proved to be more inferior than initially perceived, plenty was learned from the IU win. 

Here are three takeaways from the victory.

It is Rob Phinisee’s job to lose at point guard

When it was announced nearly two weeks ago Devonte Green was sidelined for a secret scrimmage against Loyola University Chicago, a veil of uncertainty covered the IU backcourt.

Rob Phinisee was never supposed to see significant minutes as a freshman. IU Coach Archie Miller even said as much during IU Media Day in September. But two games into the 2018 season, Phinisee appears to have the inside track to the starting role long-term.

For starters, the incumbent point guard Green is no model of consistency. In fact, that’s what’s plagued his intriguing upside since his arrival in Bloomington. 

That was on full display Friday night.

Minutes after committing an egregious offensive foul, Green delivered a picture-perfect alley-oop feed to freshman guard Romeo Langford for a thunderous dunk. 

That is Green in a nutshell.

Conversely, Phinisee was his subtly efficient self. Molded more like a true pass-first point guard than Green, Phinisee delivered a rather quiet 12-point, one assist, one rebound game.

Despite being a freshman, Phinisee seemingly commands an understanding of the offense that Green doesn’t. Possession after possession, the Lafayette, Indiana-native delivered the appropriate pass.

Phinisee also flashed his range with a nice step-back three-pointer midway through the second half. He finished 3-for-4 from behind the arc.

In fairness to Green, it’s only two games into the season and IU’s competition has been poor at best. But with the gap beginning to widen, it feels as though Phinisee could lock down the starting point guard role with a few more solid performances in the nonconference slate. 

“I’m still learning,” Phinisee said. “I learn from our older guys like Juwan and Zach, so just keep doing what I’m doing. I feel like I’m getting a lot better.”

Juwan Morgan is back to his old self for IU

To call Juwan Morgan’s performance against the Bobcats a coming out party would be unfair. He is, after all, coming off an Second Team All-Big Ten year. 

In the season-opening blowout of Chicago State, Morgan tallied a solid nine points and eight rebounds in just 22 minutes of action. That said, he was a pedestrian 4-of-9 from the field.

However, in a dominating first half against Montana State Friday, Morgan reminded fans of the dominant offensive weapon he is, totaling 14 points and seven rebounds, finishing 6-for-6 from the field.

Over that stretch, most of Morgan’s dirty work came in the post. There he flashed the fancy footwork and basketball IQ that garnered him postseason accolades in 2017.

While Langford is the flashy new toy in Miller’s toolbox, Morgan is the grizzled veteran who earns his minutes with intangibles and versatility.

If IU hopes to knock off Marquette next Wednesday, along with Arkansas, Duke, Butler and Louisville in nonconference play, Morgan must maintain his high level of play.

IU played championship-level defense against Montana State.

It’s undoubtedly too early to discuss championships, but in IU’s first two games, their opponents averaged 44.5 points per game.

Miller was admittedly unhappy with the defensive effort against Chicago State – despite the fact IU allowed just 54 points. Friday was a different story.

Montana State couldn’t garner even the slightest bit of offense in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. They finished an abysmal 25.5 percent shooting the ball.

Throughout Friday’s contest, the length of the Hoosiers created fits for the Bobcats, as the Hoosiers caused 10 steals on the night. 

Keeping Chicago State and Montana State in check offensively isn’t something to write home about. But IU’s defensive identity appears to be taking shape in Miller’s second season.

“This team has to find a way to be a fantastic defensive team,” Miller said. “Regardless of what you say on offense, this team has to find a way to make its defense charge its offense every game.”

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