Indiana men’s basketball continued its successful stretch of play during the holiday season with a 79-61 win over Northern Kentucky University on Wednesday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Indiana also defeated the University of Notre Dame at the Crossroads Classic over the weekend. With Wednesday’s win, Indiana moves to 10-2 this season and remains undefeated at home.
Indiana’s defense, ranked second nationally in defensive field goal percentage heading into the matchup, put together another lockdown performance in the midweek affair. Northern Kentucky shot just 15.6% from the floor in the first half and remained in single-digits on the scoreboard until the 1:46 mark in the opening 20 minutes.
The Norse scored just 14 points in the first half, matching the fewest points the Hoosiers have allowed in any half this season. Despite a stale offensive start for both teams, the Hoosiers used a 13-0 run during a 10-minute scoring drought for the Norse to pull away to a 38-14 lead before the halftime buzzer sounded.
“I thought defensively we did everything right the first half in terms of our coverages, our switches,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said. “I’m not overly happy where we are from an offensive standpoint because there’s so much more to give. It’s still a work in progress.”
Senior guard Rob Phinisee followed up on a solid outing off the bench against Notre Dame with 10 of Indiana’s 31 bench points against Northern Kentucky. The sixth man helped spark Indiana’s offense in the first half with 7-consecutive points off a pair of layups and a wide-open 3-pointer on the right wing.
“Rob is a big piece to this puzzle,” Woodson said. “I expect seniors to step up and play. Tonight was one of his best games of the season, so hopefully he can build on that and continue to do the things he did tonight.”
Despite a 22-point second-half outburst from Northern Kentucky senior guard Trevon Faulkner to give his team a 47-41 advantage in the closing 20 minutes, Indiana’s 24-point lead at the break was too much to overcome. Indiana’s 48-12 advantage in points in the paint and efficiency from the floor with a 58.2% shooting mark helped contain Northern Kentucky’s late heroics.
Sophomore guard Anthony Leal made his first career start Wednesday, replacing senior guard Parker Stewart. It was the first time a Bloomington native has started for Indiana since former player Jordan Hulls did so against Syracuse University in the NCAA Tournament in 2013.
Leal responded with 2 points, four rebounds and a career-high five assists in 22 minutes of action. Woodson didn’t give Stewart any playing time in the first half, but Stewart managed to connect on his first 3-point attempt in the second half for his only points of the night.
Woodson said the situation with Stewart’s playing time is an in-house matter and he doesn’t plan on discussing lineup matters with the media or fans throughout the season. Leal said he found out he was starting Wednesday’s game a few days before and wanted to surprise his family with the news at the game.
“It’s a blessing,” Leal said. “When they first told me I was in shock, but I just tried to focus on making the most of it. I couldn’t really stop smiling. Hopefully it’s the first of many.”
The Hoosiers’ backcourt duo of junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and senior forward Race Thompson dominated the Norse’s 2-3 zone defense through a combined 35 points on 16-20 shooting. Thompson’s 11 points marked the sixth-consecutive game in which he’s scored double figures.
“Me and him compliment each other very well,” Jackson-Davis said about his partnership with Thompson. “We know where we’re gonna be on offense. The biggest thing is that we’re unselfish, and it’s tough to prepare for both of us with so many pieces on our team.”
Indiana’s final nonconference game will come against the University of North Carolina at Asheville at 7 p.m. on Dec. 29 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.