After a poor showing against last place Northwestern on Wednesday in which IU narrowly escaped with a win, the walls seemed to buckle as the season seemed on the verge of crumbling much like it did a year earlier.
In back-to-back games heading into IU's matchup against Ohio State on Jan. 11, the Hoosiers had shot under 40% from the field, and the concerning trend of long scoring droughts had become more of an expectation than a surprise.
IU head coach Archie Miller was fed up and challenged his team to be better in almost every aspect of its play. He preached that the team needed to stop being selfish and return to a team-first focus that had seen success early in the season.
“I told the team after Northwestern I’d play five guys the whole game,” Miller said. “At some point in time, productivity, attitude, commitment and effort, all those things can’t be in question when you’re in a game.”
None of those concerns were a problem for the Hoosiers against No. 11 Ohio State as they knocked off the Buckeyes 66-54.
So far this season, the word surrounding this IU team has been “potential.” The Hoosiers seemed to show it in their win against then-No. 17 Florida State University and have displayed glimpses of it in fleeting moments since.
For much of the game against Ohio State — especially in the second half — IU looked to once again approach its distant potential.
“I thought we got our head out of the mud,” Miller said. “We got our attitude, we got our heads together and guys were ready to go today.”
IU set the tone on the defensive end and used it as a launching pad. The Hoosiers held the Buckeyes to only 33% shooting from the field and forced 16 turnovers.
Sophomore guard Rob Phinisee started for the first time this season and was a jolt of energy for a lingering IU lineup.
“Phinisee, big deal,” Miller said. “It always comes down to your guards setting the tone, and Rob sets the tone for us.
Phinisee led the way for the Hoosiers on defense, applying unrelenting on-ball pressure as he snatched four steals and grabbed seven rebounds.
Over his one-and-a-half seasons in Bloomington, the sophomore guard has been proven to be IU's best defender. While Phinisee was on the court against the Buckeyes, the Hoosiers' were much better in their own end as he finished with a plus-17 rating in the game.
While IU’s guards made life difficult for the Buckeyes on the perimeter, junior center Joey Brunk was left on an island to defend one of the best forwards in the Big Ten, junior Kaleb Wesson. Brunk was able to answer the call as he held Wesson to only 11 points on three-of-eleven shooting.
“For the first time against Ohio State, we were able to hold serve one-on-one,” Miller said about defending Wesson. “He had mauled us for two years.”
IU has been in this situation before but failed to build on the momentum following its top-25 win earlier this season. As of now, many can chalk the Hoosiers’ win up as a fluke like their Michigan State wins last season, but if they string together a few wins in conference play, IU can start floating back toward the center of the bubble.
“It’s going to be 50 times harder than this was and each game after that will be 50 times harder than that one,” Miller said. “We've just got to keep raising our level of intensity and got to stay with it. I really think this team has a chance.”
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