It was a full house in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Thursday night, with Indiana fans filling the arena with Purdue slander and passionate cheering. The crowd was intense to the point where the ground shook under the spectators’ feet.
The atmosphere was off the charts with Indiana men’s basketball receiving an uproar of support as clapping and screaming from fans helped it knock No. 4 Purdue off its square.
The odds were against Indiana when Purdue knocked down shots early to create a 16-8 lead. Indiana started well by pushing the ball up the floor, beating Purdue for easy transitions, but nothing was falling, and head coach Mike Woodson was quickly forced to use his bench.
Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was out of sight Thursday night, only playing 11 minutes due to early foul trouble in the first half. It seemed like a tough task for Jackson-Davis to lock down Purdue’s seven-foot-four sophomore center Zach Edey, until senior center Michael Durr entered the game with major minutes and contained Edey’s inside advantage.
Indiana’s bench was the spark of their offense, led by senior guard Rob Phinisee. Phinisee showed what he does best by lifting Indiana out of their scoring slump. He entered the game scoring 10 straight points off the bench in the first half, leading to his finish with a career-high of 20 points and going 4-for-7 from 3-point land.
Phinisee’s performance was absolutely electrifying, getting his confidence back after multiple career setbacks in recent seasons. Hoosier fans have been waiting for Phinisee to rise to the occasion all season, and he did just that: being efficient while remaining aggressive on both ends of the floor.
“Basketball Gods were looking down upon us because I thought after our conversation, he responded, man,” Woodson said. “It's nice to see."
Senior guard Xavier Johnson did not shy away from pressure either, adding 18 points to help put the Boilermakers away. He played the guard position exceptionally well Thursday night while also being efficient, making the necessary adjustments for himself and teammates to get high-quality shots.
Better yet, Indiana kept themselves to only three turnovers — its lowest number of turnovers so far this season.
Johnson remained composed defensively as well, showing he can defend without fouling, which was pivotal to Indiana’s success in keeping him out of foul trouble.
Indiana’s defensive pressure started to drop off in the second half when Purdue’s sophomore guard Jaden Ivey heated up, dropping 17 of his 21 points in the second half to give Purdue the opportunity to take the lead at 65-63.
Phinisee became the unsung hero, draining a dagger three-point shot to grab the lead back from Purdue causing Indiana to stretch the lead further to seal the game.
The effort of Indiana men’s basketball was amazing to watch, with the team remaining on a mission to dominate its opponent from start to finish. The ability to defend is what wins basketball games, and Indiana remained disciplined showing why they are worthy opponents for the March Madness tournament.
It was crucial for the guards to be key factors for Indiana’s success Thursday night, and it would be a lovely sight to see if Phinisee could help lead this Hoosier team to the promised land for the remainder of the season.