In Indiana men’s basketball’s last two games, the starting lineup came out sluggish and dug early holes. Against then-No. 4 Purdue on Jan. 20, the team got a spark from senior guard Rob Phinisee and knocked off its in-state rival. It never dug out of the hole Sunday and lost to Michigan in blowout fashion.
It was a different story for Indiana’s starting lineup Wednesday as it came out and helped build a 29-point lead in the first half, which was more than enough to withstand a 13-0 Penn State run late in the second half. Indiana won 74-57, getting revenge at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall after losing to Penn State just over three weeks earlier on the road.
“I think we took it personally,” senior forward Race Thompson said at the postgame press conference. “It really was just about energy, just calming down a little bit, playing with more energy, but at the same time being composed and really keying in on what they're doing.”
Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis opened the game by winning the tipoff and going right to work in the paint against Penn State senior forward John Harrar. He drove straight into Harrar then rose up for a hook shot, giving Indiana a 2-0 lead just 13 seconds into the game.
Jackson-Davis swatted away the first of his game-high four blocked shots on Indiana’s first defensive possession, which set up a shot-clock violation by Penn State and a 3-pointer made by senior forward Race Thompson to give Indiana a 5-0 lead. That shot was the first of a 2-2 effort from long range for Thompson, who made multiple 3-pointers in a game for the first time in his career Wednesday.
Senior guard Xavier Johnson picked up an assist on Thompson’s 3-pointer, his first of a game-high six. He turned it over on the Hoosiers’ next possession, but gave them an 8-0 lead with a 3-pointer of his own after Indiana made a stop on defense.
Jackson-Davis, Thompson and Johnson would go on to score each of Indiana’s first 19 points as it opened the game on a 12-0 run, its best start since its season-opening game against Eastern Michigan University. They’d combine for 34 of Indiana’s 46 first-half points with all three of them scoring in double digits, doubling Penn State’s 17 points in the first half by themselves.
Penn State shot 11-22 from 3-point range in its first game with Indiana this season, but Indiana’s defensive rotations tightened up on Wednesday and held it to 1-10 shooting in the first half. Penn State missed 25 of its 30 shots from the field in the first half, eight of which were blocked by Indiana defenders.
However, the Nittany Lions woke up in the second half and went 8-16 from 3-point range after the break. They outscored the Hoosiers 40-28 in the second half, but their efforts were nowhere near enough to make a comeback.
Johnson finished with a game-high 19 points, four rebounds, a block and a steal in addition to his game-high six assists. He’s been Indiana’s most consistent scorer recently, averaging 17 points across its last three games.
Head coach Mike Woodson called Johnson’s last three outings positive and productive, and said he needs to continue to grow because the team will need him as it continues its Big Ten schedule.
“I know if I see X playing defense, and he is getting a steal, I know he is going down to finish or dish to somebody,” Thompson said. “Really he is just getting everybody involved, making everybody feel good.”
Johnson’s backup Phinisee went down with an ankle injury in the first half and had to be helped off the court by his teammates. He missed the rest of the game, and sophomore guard Khristian Lander never entered the game because of an injury of his own.
“He would have played tonight if I could have stuck him in there after Rob went down, but he can't play,” Woodson said.
Woodson said Phinisee will be evaluated tomorrow and that they need to find a way to get Lander back from his injury.
Indiana will have until 2:30 p.m. Saturday when it plays Maryland on the road in College Park, Maryland, to figure out its point-guard situation. Maryland is 3-6 in the Big Ten this season, but has won its last two games against then-No. 17 Illinois and Rutgers.