BLOOMINGTON – The Hoosiers got off to a fast start against Western Illinois in the season-opener tonight, racing out to a six-point lead in the first three minutes of the game. Then, a couple of issues that plagued Indiana in 2018-19 reared their heads again: poor 3-point shooting and turnovers. Thanks to those problems, the Leathernecks were able to hang around for a while in the first half and even led 12-11 at the under-12 timeout.
That ended when Indiana embarked on a 18-0 run midway through the half that completely changed the tenor of the game. It became clear at that point that the Hoosiers were the better team and they knew it. The run was led by a step up in intensity on defense and the Leathernecks struggled to get anything going against Indiana's size and athleticism. The Hoosiers lead comfortably at halftime after forcing eight turnovers and holding WIU to 30% shooting.
The biggest turning point between the solid opening minutes and the general malaise that lingered through the middle part of the half was junior guard Aljami Durham going to the bench. Durham was red-hot to start, hitting a pair of long jumpers, including a 3-pointer, and a fadeaway in the lane. After he hit his 3-pointer, the Hoosiers missed their next three from beyond the line and when Durham went to the bench, Indiana turned the ball over three times in a four-minute span, including a couple of dropped passes from veteran Joey Brunk. Durham later returned and finished the first half with a team-best 15 points on 6 for 6 from the field. He was instrumental in pushing the pace when IU got the ball off a miss, proving to be a capable ball-handler. The difference from when he is on the floor and when he is not is noticeable.
The good news for Indiana is that Robert Phinisee, the sophomore point guard, played in the first half after it seemed like he was unlikely to see the court tonight. He had eight points and looked to be fully healthy, though he did not get the start. His health is a factor to monitor here in the early going this season, but it's a very good sign that he was able to play nine minutes in the first half. He looked comfortable in the offense, throwing one alley-oop to Justin Smith off a beautiful dribble-handoff.
The four newest Hoosiers (Trayce Jackson-Davis, Armaan Franklin, Jerome Hunter and Joey Brunk) were all more-or-less as advertised. TJD hasn't been much of a factor on offense, taking just one shot and scoring two points, but he's been active on defense and on the boards, which is what the Hoosiers have needed so far. Franklin lost some minutes to Phinisee's return to the lineup, but he did a good job in limited time pushing the ball up the floor and trying to get the ball into the post, piling up four assists. Brunk has gotten several post touches, as expected, and showed off some of his passing down low as the Leathernecks double-teamed him at certain points. Hunter has done his job, looking healthy and active on defense and moving well offensively.
There haven't been a ton of surprises in this game so far, other than Phinisee getting as much time as he has. After a couple of rough early minutes, the Hoosiers have put some distance between themselves and the Leathernecks and seem ready to cruise to a win. The season is underway.