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Tuesday, April 23
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

OPINION: Let’s just try feeling happy for Rob Phinisee and IU men’s basketball


It’s important not to let preconceived notions of basketball teams determine how good you think they actually are. 

For example, IU edging out Penn State 87-85 in overtime feels like an underwhelming performance until you realize the Nittany Lions’ 2018 National Invitation Tournament championship technically gives them more recent postseason success than the Hoosiers. 

At a certain point, we have to embrace the version of IU we see on the court, not the one we’ve come to expect based on memory or the stories our parents told us. 

The Hoosiers were far from perfect against the Nittany Lions, but put together one of their best all-around showings of the year.  

IU shot 57% from the floor, with five different Hoosiers cracking double-digit scoring. Defensively, IU did not look as dominant as it has in other contests, but consistently hounded Penn State’s shooters and logged eight rejections.

Despite its bright spots in the first half, the Hoosiers struggled to separate. While IU painstakingly collected points on acrobatic layups and foul shots throughout much of the game, Penn State was always a clutch 3-pointer away from narrowing the score.

[Related: Redemption for Rob Phinisee, Al Durham in IU men’s basketball’s 87-85 win over Penn State]

The Nittany Lions racked up 36 points from beyond the arc, a feat made easier by the lack of rabid undergrads hurling verbal abuse in Assembly Hall. 

Meanwhile, despite its improved offensive cohesion, IU still didn’t do itself any favors with turnovers. 

For the Hoosiers, passing the ball is like flossing teeth or filing taxes. It’s a mandatory task done with neither joy nor passion, and more often than not yields sloppy results. 

Though it’s easy to pick out reasons for IU’s near loss, doing so at length would detract from a pair of excellent upperclassman outings from senior guard Al Durham and junior guard Rob Phinisee. 

Durham netted 18 points and accounted for four of the Hoosiers’ six 3-pointers. Coincidentally, he was also the only IU player I saw who seemed to express something resembling joy or excitement during the pregame shootaround. 

While Phinisee’s 11 points won’t catch too many eyes scanning the stat sheet, the contested jumper he sunk in overtime to seal victory for the Hoosiers was nothing short of catharsis to fans nostalgic for the Phinisee they once knew. 

Many of head coach Archie Miller’s coaching decisions have fallen under harsh scrutiny, but the choice to start freshman guard Trey Galloway over junior guard Phinisee was not one of them.

Galloway moves the ball better than any other Hoosier and is reliable to put up just shy of 10 points so long as he gets open looks. Miller simply didn’t have the luxury of waiting on Phinisee to catch fire.

Now, Miller is faced with the fortunate problem of deciding which great player to start.

Not every game makes a team either deserving of an NCAA championship or unworthy of a spot in the NIT. Sometimes, a group of athletes plays really hard and has one more shot fall than its opponent. 

IU played really well, but not perfectly. So did Penn State. 

It just so happened that IU played slightly better when it mattered most, which is to say fewer of their shots rimmed out by happenstance. 

Short of completely blowing the doors off of unranked Penn State, there wasn’t much Miller could do to win back the hearts of his doubters. 

It’s hard to make any sweeping conclusions based on a game that could have gone either way based on a single possession. 

Instead of gazing into box scores like a crystal ball in desperate search for answers and premonitions, might I suggest being happy for the players?

It’s easy, stress-free, and probably the least frustrating approach you can take to watching IU basketball this season. 

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