BLOOMINGTON – The Wat Shot has company.
More than a decade after Christian Watford buried a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat No. 1 Kentucky and signal a new dawn for Indiana basketball, Rob Phinisee turned in a highlight that will reside alongside Watford's in the Indiana Pantheon for years to come.
When Phinisee, a Lafayette native, came off a Race Thompson screen, received a pass in the corner and swished a fadeaway 3 with 17 seconds left to lift Indiana over No. 4 Purdue 68-65 at Assembly Hall on Thursday, it once again felt like a new era had begun in earnest for the Hoosiers, who vanquished their rivals for the first time in five years.
The students who lined up down the block outside the arena hours before the game certainly felt that way, proving it when they rushed the court after the final buzzer sounded, echoing the celebration that followed Watford's shot. Phinisee ended up in the middle of the mass, lifted off the floor, smiling broadly.
“It was hot,” the senior point guard joked about the court-storming. “It's something I won't ever forget. These fans have supported me through everything. The crowd tonight was huge, they really boosted us. ... We finally beat Purdue. We just needed this win. We needed this win bad.”
For Phinisee, the new day began when Mike Woodson became Indiana's coach in March. After a promising freshman season in 2018-19, the bulldog point guard had appeared to lose confidence over the last two seasons, and Woodson made rebuilding Phinisee's self-belief a special project.
“He's had a tough go at it in the past,” Woodson said of the former McCutcheon star. “I'm just trying to get him to forget what happened in the past. You're playing for coach Woodson now, and coach Woodson loves you and I'm in your corner and I'm saying it's OK to go do your thing, because I see something maybe in him that he probably doesn't see in himself.”
The pair had what Woodson called a “beautiful, man-to-man” talk just hours before the game Thursday in which the coach reiterated his trust in his point guard.
The pep talk had its desired effect. Phinisee turned in a career-high 20 points, pouring in 17 in the first half when Indiana was playing without All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis. He made his first five shots from the floor, scored 13 points in a 3:59 span, added four steals before halftime and helped the Hoosiers turn a 16-8 deficit into a 37-28 halftime lead, all with Jackson-Davis on the bench.
“I just had faith in myself no matter what happens,” Phinisee said. “(Woodson) told me if no one else is in my corner, he's in my corner. We just had a really good talk before shootaround. It really boosted my spirit.”
Before Phinisee departed the interview room to let Woodson discuss the game with the media, coach and player shared an embrace that was 10 months in the making.