In Thursday’s matchup with No. 13 Ohio State, it was largely through junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis’ 27-point performance and dominance in the paint that set up Indiana men’s basketball for an upset victory.
Minnesota, today’s roadblock on Indiana’s grind through Big Ten play, seemed to take notice of Jackson-Davis’ prior production when the two teams met for Sunday’s matchup at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Despite the strict gameplan Minnesota deployed — a team-wide effort to pack the paint and make life difficult for the All-American forward when Indiana had the ball — Indiana’s guards stepped up with timely baskets to guide the team past Minnesota 73-60.
Although Jackson-Davis couldn’t get much going offensively in the first half, going scoreless until almost halfway through the half, senior guards Rob Phinisee and Xavier Johnson provided relief for Indiana on offense. Minnesota’s complete concentration on the threat below the basket left opportunities begging higher up for Johnson and Phinisee, who combined for 22 of Indiana’s 39 first-half points.
“Tonight I thought both of them played extremely well, considering all the hollering and screaming I was doing over there,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said.
Phinisee scored 12 of his season-high 13 points in the first half on 4-8 shooting, with all of his attempts coming from behind the arc. His four three-pointers against Minnesota matched a career-high, a feat he last accomplished in a road win against then-No.4 Iowa last season on Jan. 21, 2021.
Woodson has said in prior press conferences that he’d like Phinisee to be more confident shooting the ball and take more shots should the chances present themselves. Phinisee said he’s worked on being prepared to do just that each time he comes off the bench. On each of Phinisee’s attempts, Minnesota defenders remained several feet away from the three-point line once the ball reached him.
“When I came in, I just was shot ready,” Phinisee said. “I saw how they were guarding (Xavier Johnson), and usually that’s how teams guard us the same. I knocked down those shots in the first half, and I feel like they weren’t really sagging off as much in the second.”
Phinisee also provided four assists, three rebounds and zero turnovers in 29 minutes as Indiana’s sixth man, including a team-high plus-minus rating of +22.
“Rob has been through the grind of the Big Ten, and he knows the ins and outs of it,” Woodson said. “I don't have too many players like Rob that's been on this team that knows the team, and he can't live in the past.”
Johnson eased into Sunday’s game early by scoring the opening 5 points for Indiana with a basket in the paint and the first of his two 3-pointers on the day. He went on to finish with team-highs in points with 14 and assists with five despite only playing 22 minutes due to foul trouble.
Inconsistent performances have resulted in boos from fans directed toward Johnson during a few games, but he said he’s kept working hard at improving his game and found support through his teammates and, most importantly to him, his coach.
“When I first came in, (Woodson) told me he had my back, and that was just the case scenario today,” Johnson said. “That's the only person that I need to believe in me because he's my coach, and he's the only person that matters. It's something that I've got to push through because I work on my craft every day, and my team believes in me.”
Phinisee and Johnson weren’t able to carry over their offensive production from the first half into the second, but the duo played a key role in holding Minnesota’s offense cold in the closing stages and keeping Indiana’s home record flawless. Minnesota shot just 10-27 from the floor in the second half and made one field goal in the final eight minutes.
“A lot of us got beat tonight off the bounce,” Woodson said. “When you start playing two small guards, I've got to utilize my two small guards who both can defend off the dribble.”
Indiana’s guards will look to stay consistent as the team grows into the thick of the Big Ten schedule with a road matchup against Iowa at 9 p.m. Thursday in Iowa City, Iowa.