BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — On a Thursday night when up was down and in was out in a teeming Assembly Hall, Indiana beat No. 4 Purdue 68-65.
How to describe it? “I’m at a loss for words,” Hoosier guard Xavier Johnson mentioned when it was over. If you saw the cockeyed box score, you would be too. “Basketball gods were looking down upon us,” coach Mike Woodson would say afterward. How slightly mystical was the latest upset of a top-10 team by an unranked opponent? Let us count the ways, for here was a game with a curious case of the buts.
1. Indiana reserve guard Rob Phinisee, who went to high school 7.5 miles from Purdue’s Mackey Arena, had scored two points the previous two games. His season average was 4.6. He was shooting 28.8 percent for the year.
But . . . he scored 13 points in his first six minutes against the Boilermakers. He had 17 by halftime. He didn’t score again until he buried the 3-pointer with 17 seconds left that put Indiana ahead to stay. The next thing he knew, he was being lofted up by his teammates and surrounded by the thousands of Indiana students who stormed the court, after waiting outside for hours in 20-degree temperatures to get in the place. “Just something I won’t ever forget,” he said later.
Rob 🅿️hinisee!!!@robphinisee1 | #IUBB pic.twitter.com/40Fet1lmJf— Indiana Basketball (@IndianaMBB) January 21, 2022
2. All-American Trayce-Jackson Davis is considered the indispensable Hoosier. He was the leading scorer in 10 of their first 13 victories, and averaging nearly nine points than anyone else on the roster.
But . . . he played only 11 minutes Thursday night because of foul trouble, took one shot and scored four points. Indiana won anyway. During the 14:24 he sat the first half, the Hoosiers outscored the Boilermakers 29-15.
3. Purdue’s bench has been a reliable weapon, contributing at least 25 points in 12 consecutive games coming into Thursday.
But . . . the Boilermakers were outscored 35-4 in bench points by Indiana. “I made this statement, if the bench is rolling, I’m going to ride them until their tongues fall out,” Woodson said.
4. Indiana was 299th in the nation in turnover margin coming into the game. That has been a frequent issue.
But . . . the Hoosiers had only three against Purdue. The Boilermakers had 12. Indiana outscored Purdue 15-5 in points off turnovers.
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5. Purdue’s twin towers of Zach Edey and Trevion Williams have been a terror throughout the land, combining for 29 points a game as they split time.
But . . . they scored only 14 points against the Hoosiers. They took only 10 shots.
6. But who was stopping them, with Jackson-Davis on the bench all night? “That’s kind of a scary thought,” Woodson said. “But my mentality is, and I think the players feel the same way, it’s next man up.” Indiana’s next big man up, 7-footer Michael Durr, had played barely 35 minutes in Indiana’s first seven Big Ten games.
But . . . he was on the court 24 minutes Thursday night. And the big Boilermakers could hardly make a dent against him. “Before the game I told Mike, `it’s going to be your day,’” Johnson said.
7. Purdue has positively thrived at the free throw line. In their first 17 games, the Boilermakers made 283 of them. Their opponents shot only 214.
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But . . . they were outscored from the line 14-7 by Indiana, partly because the Boilermakers were 7-for-17. Then again, the Hoosiers were only 14-for-24. This was not a free throw clinic.
All for you. pic.twitter.com/sEkMqJn0mq— Rob Phinisee (@robphinisee1) January 21, 2022
8. Purdue has had its way with Indiana in this ancient feud. The Boilermakers had beaten the Hoosiers nine times in a row, the longest streak by either team in the series in 67 years, and Purdue’s longest since 1935. The Boilermakers went into this game leading the series overall 124-89. No other Big Ten team even has a winning record against the Hoosiers.
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But . . . it’s Indiana with the five national championship banners. And Purdue’s streak is over. That had to feel particularly good to Phinisee. Had it continued much longer, he could have come and gone from Bloomington and never beaten his hometown team.
“Every time I go home, people always talk trash to me,” he said. “We just needed this win. We needed this win bad.”
9. Purdue coach Matt Painter had owned the Hoosiers, going 17-5 in his last 22 meetings.
But . . . now he’s 0-1 against Woodson. No faster way for a new Indiana coach to charm the masses than upset a fourth-ranked Boilermaker team. “Any time you can beat Purdue – and they feel the same about us, and it’s been awhile since we’ve beaten them – it’s special,” Woodson said. “Hell, I didn’t dribble one ball or make one shot, man. It was those guys in the locker room that got it done. I couldn’t be more proud of a team.”
The most important thing Woodson did Thursday might have come hours before the game, when he pulled Phinisee aside before shoot-around, to deliver a booster shot for his struggling guard’s confidence.
“He told me just if no one else is in your corner, that he is in my corner,” Phinisee said.
“I don’t normally give inside scoop away, but Rob and I had a beautiful conversation,” Woodson said. “When the coach is by your side, you should cherish it and just play not only for Rob, but for the jersey that you wear. He has had his ups and downs, but I thought tonight he was on a mission, and it was nice to see.”
With the game on the line – Purdue ahead 65-63 and 33 seconds left – Woodson called a timeout. “Run a play for me,” Phinisee told him. So Woodson did, and Phinisee had a 3-pointer go in and out. The Boilermakers fumbled away the rebound and Indiana had another chance. The Hoosiers ran an inbounds play and Phinisee was open again, in the corner. He didn’t miss this time.
The Purdue streak was over. Maybe surprisingly, maybe inexplicably, but over. Purdue came into Thursday night 15-2, Indiana 13-4. The combined 28-6 record was the best in the series in 14 years. This rivalry is real again.