My Two Cents: When Hoosiers Are Bad, They're Really Bad
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — It's a telling sign on the sad state of affairs of Indiana basketball right now when the best Hoosiers guard on the floor here Wednesday night was ... Curtis Jones.
That's right, and it wasn't even close.
Jones actually plays for Penn State now, but the senior guard used to be a Hoosier. He played two years at Indiana, first for Tom Crean and then a semester for Archie Miller before leaving in December of 2017 because he "was just ready for a change.''
Jones spent a year at Oklahoma State before coming to Penn State as a graduate transfer and he had a second straight big night in Penn State's ugly 64-49 win over Indiana in the Bryce Jordan Center. He scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, with two 3-pointers.
If that doesn't sound like much, here's an apt comparison that will make your stomach turn. In the same game, all FOUR of Indiana's guards combined didn't even make five shots. The foursome of Al Durham, Rob Phinisee, Devonte Green — Jones' former roommate at Indiana — and Armaan Franklin were a combined 3-for-26 from the field.
Yes, that's THREE-for-26. That's 11.5 percent shooting for the entire guard group at Indiana. They had a combined 10 points on the night — less than Jones' 12.
Jones was that good — and his Indiana counterparts were that bad on a night where the Hoosiers only scored 49 points, their lowest total of the year.
“I’m proud of Curtis,” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said after Wednesday night's win. “We really needed his production in the first half, and we’re going to continue to need that.
“He made big shots for us, he made big plays in the second half too, and he’s got to continue to do that. This is what seniors are supposed to do, rise to the occasion, and he's doing that for us.”
No one rose to the occasion for Indiana.
Indiana could have used that juice too, and that was the most telling sign about Jones' performance on Wednesday night. He's a role player here for a very good Nittany Lions team that's now 15-5 overall and 5-4 in the Big Ten. He comes off the bench, but he plays about 18 important minutes a game and he's been a spark plug.
He scored 18 second-half points in a road win at Michigan last Wednesday, and gave the Penn State offense a huge jump start in the Indiana game.
And what hurt the most was that he was the difference in the game, really. Both teams were struggling to score for the longest time. The game was a sore-on-the-eyes bloodbath for a while, but Jones came up big off the bench. In fairness, he also outscored his own starting guards 12-9.
But here's how bad the Indiana guards were:
- Al Durham played 30 minutes and made just 1-of-7 shots from the field, a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws for a guard-group high of 5 points.
- Rob Phinisee, the starting point guard, was 0-for-6 from the field and never scored in 24 minutes. He had more turnovers (2) than points (0).
- Devonte Green (deep heavy sigh) was awful, making just 2-of-10 shots, many of them forced, and was 0-for-3 from deep. He had as many turnovers (2) as shots made, and only scored 4 points in 22 very long minutes.
- Armaan Franklin played 18 minutes and was 0-for-3 from the field, and 1-for-2 from the free throw line. He had one total point all night, matching his turnover total.
That's all bad.
Like season-worst bad.
"Offensively we were bad,'' Indiana coach Archie Miller said. "We had some good looks that needed to go down. You have to make some shots. We didn't have it, and it wasn't just one guy. We couldn't get anything going. You've got to be stronger with the ball.
"I told our guys, there are no excuses. We played terrible offensively in the second half, and when you turn it over and give a team 15 steals, they will eventually break the game open."
Which they did. And Miller had no problem pointing the finger at his guards.
"The numbers don't lie," Miller told. "We didn't get enough firepower from the outside and that made things difficult on the inside. We hung in there defensively and, for the most part, our defense was good. The 12 turnovers in the second half was the reason why the game turned into what it did."
It's not like the Hoosiers — 15-6 overall now and 5-5 in the league — are a sinking ship, but they sure looked bad Wednesday night, and now that's two losses in a row with another road game ahead on Saturday at Ohio State.
And here's the ugly visual. All four guards were so bad, but Miller didn't have anyone else to turn to because they are the only four guards on the roster. Because of attrition, early defections and several recruiting misses, Indiana has only 11 scholarship players, two below the maximum. Two completely empty spots.
In other words, Curtis Jones' spot on Indiana's roster has never been filled.
Penn State needed a spark Wednesday night, and got it from Jones. Indiana needed a spark too, and got it — from no one.
Jones' departure was a long time ago, more than two years now, and everyone has moved on. But there he was Wednesday night, and we all had to see it. It was an obvious, telling sign that Indiana's roster still isn't where it needs to be.
But you dance with what you've got, and Indiana's foursome of guards will have better nights. They've done that often this year, and we've seen that. Just because they were collectively awful Wednesday night doesn't mean that will ever happen again this season, and if I had to guess, it probably won't. At least not at that gross level.
Durham just had a game where he hit big shots and knocked off a top-10 team. Green's had a game where he scored 30 against another top-10 team. Franklin hit the big game-winner against Notre Dame and Phinisee is, well, you know, still "Big Shot Rob,'' although he can kick the rust off that month-plus preseason layoff any time now.
As a group, they've been average at best all season, with a few really nice runs thrown in here and there. But they need to be better going forward. January is over now, and February is here. March, as we all well know, comes after that.
It's time to be better.
Kind of like Curtis Jones, their former teammate, was for Penn State.