The Hoosiers finished off their two-game road trip with a win in Lincoln, Nebraska. IU men’s basketball defeated Nebraska 84-76 even after giving up an 18-point lead Sunday.
“We were able to win the game,” IU head coach Archie Miller. “That’s the most important thing because right now in this league every one of these things counts.”
Miller said the team saw something from Nebraska it hasn’t seen so far this season: The Cornhuskers’ defense focused primarily on shutting down sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, not the other four players on the court.
This extreme level of letting other players shoot the ball left everyone else wide open — and junior guard Rob Phinisee and senior guard Al Durham capitalized on that.
The two guards combined for 35 points against Nebraska. Miller said he needed his upperclassmen to step up after Phinisee and Durham only scored six points total in their game versus Northwestern on Dec. 23.
Nebraska’s defense gave IU’s guards the green light to shoot the ball from the perimeter because they all trapped Jackson-Davis in the post. They chose to surround the paint to stop Jackson-Davis from dominating down low and make the four other players beat them instead.
And that’s what the guards did in the first half.
Phinisee got off to a hot start and scored 16 points in just the first 15 minutes of the game — beating his previous season high. After hurting his leg in the first half, he went on to score only two more points in the second half, but still managed a career-high 18 points.
Jackson-Davis only attempted one shot in the first half — and he missed it. IU’s guards, on the other hand, took 27 shots.
Phinisee went three for four on 3-point attempts and shot 60% from the field in the first half. Durham shot 50% from behind the arc and added 10 points before halftime.
“We’ve been working on our shot all season. We just took what they gave us,” Phinisee said.
IU went into halftime up 46-34. But like many games the Hoosiers have played this season, it was a tale of two halves.
Miller said he knew they couldn’t shoot at the same high percentage they did for two halves — and the team didn’t.
The Hoosiers only hit two of 11 3-point attempts in the second half and shot just 37.2% from the field.
“Some of the shots in the second half are the same ones in the first half, they just went in,” Miller said. “We got some good looks in the second half. They didn’t go down.”
Jackson-Davis was able to get more involved in the second half, adding 13 more points. Miller said Jackson-Davis emerged when they needed him most — especially getting to the free line and making the shots.
But with IU’s stagnancy on offense, the Cornhuskers were able to chip away at its lead. They went on a 14-2 run and took back the lead with just more than nine minutes left in the game.
Miller said he wanted his team to execute better than it did in the final minutes against Wisconsin, where it ended up falling apart in double overtime.
And the Hoosiers did just that.
“In the second half when we really went through our rut and struggled to score, I thought later in the game Al made a couple big plays,” Miller said.
After blowing an 18-point lead, the Hoosiers regrouped to take back control of the game. They did it all without standout sophomore guard Armaan Franklin, too.
“Armaan, he’s a big piece of our offense,” Phinisee said. “We obviously knew just being the upperclassmen that we have to step up.”
That’s exactly what the upperclassmen guards did — they stepped up.