BLOOMINGTON – Indiana's win streak reached five in a row with a 33-point victory, as it should have against a team such as Central Arkansas. In addition, Devonte Green re-emerged as a lethal threat from the outside, putting up career-highs in basically everything and helping the Hoosiers overcome a sluggish start.
That's some of the good news and there was plenty of it in an entertaining, highlight-filled 86-53 victory over the Bears on Wednesday. The bad news is that Indiana's injury woes continue to haunt the team. This time, it was freshman guard Robert Phinisee who was felled, leaving with concussion symptoms after diving for a loose ball (a very on-brand play for him). Archie Miller seems to think Phinisee will miss significant time, so, everyone, please welcome back Devonte Green, Starting Point Guard.
Green started late last season and flashed dynamic play-making abilities, though he was streaky and inconsistent. He hasn't really had a chance to get going this season because of a thigh injury that sidelined him for four games. Phinisee's solid early-season play has also eaten into his minutes. Now the Hoosiers will again need him to make plays in the freshman's absence.
"I'm just taking it day by day," Green said of recovering from the injury. "It was a long process coming back off recovery but I've been doing preventative stuff to make it easier so that when I come back, I don't get hurt again, so that's basically what I've been focusing on.
"Everything starts on defense and I think once the defense starts going, offense comes with it."
Green finished with season-highs in nearly every relevant statistical category, including points, rebounds, assists, steals, 3-pointers and minutes. He also only committed two turnovers, which is a very positive sign for him going forward. The point guard helped spark the Hoosiers early in the first half, when they were dragging on defense and the offense had turned the ball over five times in five minutes. Green's four first-half 3-pointers helped turn an early deficit into a 16-point halftime lead and erase the nervousness that crept into Assembly Hall when Indiana trailed by as many as five early.
Still, Green's play-making aside, Indiana really did struggle early in the game and Miller thought his team came out flat. He thought the starters looked "winded" and he especially wants to work on the team's 3-point defense going forward. The Bears went 9 of 23 (39 percent) from beyond the arc, despite shooting just 31 percent overall. Miller said correcting ball-screen coverage against the UCA frontcourt was the difference later in the game.
"We're going to watch the film and we've got to get back to work,," Miller said. "(I'm) very concerned right now defensively in terms of our 3-point field goal defense and how many they are making in the last three games, and that's got to get corrected here as we move into Saturday."
The Hoosiers were able to pull away anyway, partly because they settled down, partly because the Bears simply aren't a very good team. The key players were Green and Romeo Langford, who had 18 points without hitting a 3-pointer and added a career-high 11 rebounds, giving him his second double-double of the season. He also had five assists and just one turnover, completing a quietly stellar performance. Miller was most impressed by the freshman's rebounding ability.
"Very complete game by (Romeo) and he's going to need to continue to be that way, especially rebounding for us," Miller said. "He's got to give us another added weapon on the glass, both ends of the floor.
"When he's able to get a couple second shots, it's big and then the way he can rebound defensively, that's a big thing for our team because we are not the biggest team at times out there and we are going to play against a lot bigger teams."
So the Hoosiers won their fifth straight game to improve to 10-2. The effect of this game won't be felt for a while, until Indiana plays a good team without Phinisee (if he ends up missing time). Losing the freshman would be a tough blow, but if Green can play anything close to the way he did tonight, he'll provide plenty of cushion.