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Monday, May 20
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Rob Phinisee’s return plays a key role in IU men’s basketball’s ugly win over UConn

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It took sophomore guard Rob Phinisee all of 26 seconds to make his presence felt. 

Phinisee checked into the game with 12:13 to play in the first half. He was returning from an ankle injury that had kept him out since Nov. 20. 

He came in on defense, and on his first possession, grabbed the rebound amidst contact. He held the ball and took it the full length of the floor, gliding down the lane and finishing a layup with 11:47 left. 

IU still trailed by seven after Phinisee’s layup. It wouldn’t regain the lead until just under two minutes left in the half. But with Phinisee back, IU had a spark. 

"Guys stepped up and played,” IU head coach Archie Miller said. “It was good to have Rob Phinisee."

IU didn’t have a spark when it fell behind early against Wisconsin on Sunday. Miller said his team searched for a breakout and never got it in Madison, Wisconsin. IU was down early again Tuesday night against the University of Connecticut at Madison Square Garden.

But when it found its breakout, Phinisee was a reason why. 

With Phinisee back, IU closed the first half on an 18-3 run. And when the game hung within three points in the final seconds, it was Phinisee that made the little plays that proved critical in a 57-54 win over UConn. 

“Our guys really dug down,” Miller said. “We were much better in the toughness category.” 

Phinisee entered the game again with 1:19 to play. IU was only up by three. 

It had held onto the lead despite a second-half rock fight. IU went seven minutes without scoring. It only shot 29% from the field in the second half. It was 2-13 from three for the whole game. It was out-rebounded, again. 

Seven straight points from junior center Joey Brunk gave IU some second-half energy, but the ugly, tough, physical game stayed true through to the end. 

On his first possession upon coming back into the game, Phinisee grabbed a rebound inside beside taller bodies on a missed three. And after Brunk missed a shot on the offensive end, it was Phinisee who secured the offensive rebound, the ball kicking out to him near the three point line.

There were only 19 seconds left. UConn fouled Phinisee; the sophomore had forced it to. 

Phinisee only scored six points. He only had four rebounds and two assists. He only played 13 minutes, still working to get his conditioning back to full strength. 

"He played more in tonight's game than he's practiced all year,” Miller said. 

But in the minutes he played, however sparse they were, Phinisee reminded everyone just how important he is to IU’s successes. On a night where it won without the grace of its performance against Florida State University, Phinisee provided the toughness Miller’s team needed on both ends of the floor. 

Alongside Phinisee’s return, Miller saw the quiet team he lamented against Wisconsin begin to speak up. He saw a captain in junior guard Al Durham and a freshman already stepping into a leadership role in forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who spoke up in a way no one had at the Kohl Center. 

And while Phinisee’s stat line doesn’t jump off the page, it was part of a true team effort that emphasized the depth Miller had proclaimed his team had before the season. IU had 10 players play at least eight minutes. All 10 of them scored, and none more than nine points. 

Brunk and Durham tied for the team scoring lead. 

IU won in a way it hadn’t had to before. It hadn’t played in a game this close from start to finish. After the way it struggled from start to finish against Wisconsin, IU had to bounce back. It wasn’t a pretty performance, far from it, but bounce back it did. 

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