NEW YORK CITY — Without much time to dwell about Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin, another road test for the Hoosiers ended up on a positive note this time as the Hoosiers clutched a wire-to-wire victory. Indiana (9-1, 0-1) wins their 2019 Jimmy V Classic pairing against Dan Hurley’s Huskies, who now move to 6-3 on the season.
Given UConn’s top 55 ranking in KenPom, the Hoosiers will likely earn a Tier-A or Tier-B resume addition, which will be crucial during the weeks leading up to Selection Sunday.
Connecticut fans from the east coast showed their presence tonight at the Garden in a game that largely resembled Indiana’s last game at MSG against Rutgers. In both scenarios, the two Atlantic teams brought their fan base in droves.
One story coming into the evening was the announcement of Rob Phinisee’s availability. The sophomore true point guard had missed half of Indiana’s season so far due to a lower abdominal injury followed by an unfortunate ankle issue. Having a fourth guard available would allow the Hoosiers to match up better against UConn’s guard-heavy roster.
A little dash of Phinisee was exactly what the Hoosiers needed early.
He immediately grabbed a defensive board and turned it into transition points at the other end. Phinisee’s icy veins helped him hit key free throws to seal the victory as the final timer ticked to zero.
The start of the game featured an extended battle of back-and-forth possessions. The first timeout did not come until the 13-minute mark. By then, the Huskies had built a solid nine-point lead largely created by the early effort of red shirt freshman Akok Akok, who had three points, three rebounds and three blocks.
Phinisee made his first appearance into the game at the 12-minute mark. His return to the floor was felt immediately, as he made an impact by grabbing an import defensive rebound, and ending the Hoosiers’ scoring drought on the same play.
At the under-8 timeout, UConn carried a lead by using the inside presence of Josh Carlton. The frontcourt beast was five of six from the field with ten points. Miller used a number of defenders, but found that a combination of double-teaming and fronting Carlton was really the only option. De’Ron Davis played important minutes as he held his own against the Huskies’ man in the middle.
The Hoosiers would eat away at the deficit with the help of Armaan Franklin and Phinisee. Although UConn was shooting 52% from the field, they were only able to maintain a lead of four to six points.
Noteworthy, neither team had missed a free throw at the under-4 minute timeout. The first missed free throw was from UConn’s Christian Vital, a who has been a phenomenal free throw shooter all season. Vital surprisingly ended the game with two of five at the charity stripe.
To get back into the game, IU went on a key 15-1 run near the end of the half. Devonte Green and Justin Smith finally got the three-ball going, and everyone got to the line and cashed in. The Hoosiers also forced four turnovers in the last four minutes of the half.
Indiana was able to take advantage of an open area of the defense, left by the benching of Akok. The Huskies’ defensive unit picked up his second foul and was unable to protect the rim for a large portion of the first half. At the end of the half, IU was up 34-29. Leading scorers were Trayce Jackson-Davis for IU and Carlton for UConn.
Starting the second half, both teams were sluggish offensively out the gate. Akok picked up a major third foul with 17 minutes left, leading to him being substituted off. At the under-16 media timeout, the Hoosiers still held a solid five-point lead.
The next four minutes were brutal offensively for both teams as they continued to struggle. The Hoosiers made one of their last nine shots while the Huskies made two of their last ten. The defensive-heavy game favored the Huskies as they cut into IU’s lead.
A key three-point play and a huge alley-oop enabled the Huskies-leaning crowd to erupt at the Garden as Hurley’s ball club tied the game at 38 with 11 minutes to go.
This forced coach Miller to call timeout.
Jerome Hunter made his presence known as he entered the game with eight minutes left and hit a key shot to break IU’s seven-minute scoring drought.
UConn returned the punches and regained the lead through a Carlton dunk, which sparked the Huskies’ crowd once again. That’s when Joey Brunk, who did not play very well in the first half, stepped in. Brunk muscled three consecutive baskets at the rim, including a jumper and two layups (one of which earned an extra free throw).
Hurley’s timeout ended up helping the Huskies get back into the game through a key three pointer in a nicely designed set play. Both teams continued to punch each directly in the gut, as they battled inside the paint. Key buckets by UConn’s Carlton and IU’s Brunk and Al Durham were traded.
The Garden crowd got loud until a major flagrant foul stopped play with less than four minutes left by Carlton. The resulting free throw plus an alley-oop dunk off of an inbounds play by IU’s Smith helped push IU’s late lead up to six points.
Simply put, the last two minutes of the game were chaotic. The Hoosiers gripped tightly to a three point lead and pushed it to 5 on a key offensive rebound and two clutch free throws by Phinisee. UConn struck back quickly with a three. However, in the final moments, the Huskies turned the ball over with a chance to tie the game.
The Hoosiers ultimately pull through to victory with a final score of 57-54 in a stressful muscle match against the Huskies.
Number of the Night: 8
Coach Miller has stressed time and time again that this team’s strength is its depth, and we saw that tonight.
Eight players played at least 11 minutes or more tonight for the Hoosiers and a full-on team effort led to the victory tonight. The balance of roster depth has been a recurring quality for this team.
Despite Brunk and Phinisee only logging 19 and 13 minutes respectively, they played in very critical moments of the game. Brunk came off of a game in which he struggled to defend Wisconsin’s Nate Reuvers. However, tonight, he logged key minutes, played solid defense and scored key points.
Final Box Scores
Next Up: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Indiana’s next opponent will be Fred Hoiberg’s flailing Nebraska Cornhuskers this Friday, December 13 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Nebraska has almost an entire week to prepare for their first Big Ten conference game and are seeking for any positive momentum they can get.
This will be the Hoosiers’ second conference game, their first at home. Coach Miller is looking to avenge the tough loss in Madison, Wisconsin they suffered last Saturday.
The teams will tip off at 8 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network.
Featured Photo: IndianaHQ