BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — For four years now, Rob Phinisee has been hearing the trash talk every time he goes home to Lafayette. The Indiana guard has suffered through one loss after another to his hometown school, and all he could do was take it.
That ended on Thursday night, and it was Phinisee who had the game of his life. He scored 17 first-half points to flip the script, then made a dramatic three-pointer with 17 seconds to go to give the Hoosiers a thrilling 68-65 win over No. 4-ranked Purdue at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
"Every time I go home, people are always talking trash,'' Phinisee said. "I needed to get one. It's something I won't ever forget. These fans, the crowd tonight, that was huge.
"I just felt like every time I touched the ball, it was going to go in. I just played with my heart on the sleeves.''
The victory snapped a nine-game losing streak to their archrivals, one. that dates back to February of 2016. Phinisee was part of the last three years of that streak while playing for Archie Miller, who went 0-for-7 against Purdue and got fired partly because of that.
In came Mike Woodson to coach the Hoosiers, and the former Indiana legend made it an immediate priority to hold serve on its home court. They did just that, raising their record to 12-0 at home this season. The Hoosiers are now 14-4 on the year, and 5-3 in the Big Ten.
Phinisee has been a project of Woodson's since he got here, because he knew the potential was there, but it had been beaten out of him the past three years. He's preached confidence with him, over and over, because he knew he needed the senior guard to win big games,
And that's exactly what he did,.
"I just had faith in myself, no matter what happens,'' Phinisee said. "Coach Woodson and I had a good talk before the game after our shootaround. He always has my back.''
Woodson didn't want to talk about the specifics of the meeting, but
"Rob and I had a beautiful conversation hours before the ballgame,'' Woodson said. "It was nice to see him step up, and it was beautiful to watch. The basketball gods were looking down on us. He responded, and it was nice to see. Sometimes you've got to have a man-to-man talk.''
Indiana was in trouble out of the gate, falling behind 16-8 before Phinisee hit the floor. Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana's best player, picked up two fouls in the first 5:36 and was forced to the bench.
It was others who needed to step up in his absence. That was Phinisee and fellow point guard Xavier Johnson, and the pair simply took over the game.
Phinisee scored 13 points in just 4 minutes, hitting all three three-pointers and two drives to the lane. That eight-point deficit quickly became an 11-point lead and the Hoosiers were rolling. His last bucket of the half but Indiana up 37-26 and still led by. nine at the break.
Johnson was terrific too, scoring eight first-half points and executive Indiana's offense flawlessly. The Hoosiers had just one first-turnover — and only three for the game.
Purdue (15-3, 4-3 in the Big Ten) rallied in the second half, and took advantage of a poor stretch offensively for the Hoosiers. Jaden Ivey, who had 19 second-half points, scored on a drive to tie the game at 63-63 with 3:36 left.
Purdue went ahead 65-63 on a Mason Gillis layup with 1:08 to go, but then didn't score again. Jackson-Davis, back in the game with four fouls, forced a tough shot Purdue center Trevion Williams and then forced Ivey to toss up a wild floater.
Indiana had two chances to pull ahead. Phinisee said he told Woodson in the huddle during a timeout that he wanted the ball to take a game-winning shot. So the Hoosiers ran an action for him on the left side, but his three didn't go in with 21 seconds to go. The ball went out of bounds and Indiana retained possession.
Trey Galloway inbounded the ball, and had Jackson-Davis open, but he kicked it in the right corner to Phinisee instead, and he nailed the three to give Indiana the lead. Ivey missed a desperation three on the other end, and the Hoosiers had their huge victory,.
"We just set up that inbounds play this morning, and Trayce was open,'' Woodson said. "For some reason, he threw it to Rob, and he knocked it down.''
After Ivey's miss, the Indiana student section flooded the court to celebrate, much like they did 10 years ago when Christian Watford hit a shot to beat Kentucky for Tom Crean's first signature win at Indiana.
This had an eerily similar feeling.
"I was trying to make my way through the crowd to get to my teammates, and then X picked me up, and Trayce picked me up on their shoulders,'' Phinisee said. "It's a moment I'll never forget.''
Johnson, who was booed by Indiana fans a month ago for poor play, finished the game with 18 points, four rebounds and two assists. He had zero turnovers in 32 minutes of playing time.
"I'm at a loss for words with how happy I am. It feels so good.''
Senior Michael Durr had a career night, too. The 7-footer, a transfer from South Florida, picked up the slack with Jackson-Davis sidelined, and he did a great job of defending Williams and Edey.
The pair, who came into the game averaging a combined 30 points and 16 rebounds, scored only 14 points total and were a combined 2-for-9 from the foul line.
"Big Mike, he hasn't been playing that much. But him just staying ready, it was huge,'' Johnson said.
"That was the first time we've had to deal with foul trouble with Trayce. It's all about next man up and Mike really stepped up,'' Woodson said. "Our ability to stay aggressive with our half-court defense, that's where we are at our best. I thought the first half, that was as good as we've defended all year.''
Purdue was just 7-for-17 from the line, which a big surprise from a team that was shooting 72 percent on the season. The pressure of the moment, and the loud intensity of the Indiana home crowd, had a lot to do with that.
"Our fans tonight were just unbelievable. They were great,'' Woodson said. "It's been a while.''
Woodson was hired to restore the great Indiana basketball tradition, and that starts with winning games like this. But the veteran of three-plus decades in the NBA refused to take any credit himself. It was all about the players, he said.
"It's all about these guys. It's not about me,'' Woodson said. "Any time you can beat Purdue, it's special.''
Especially for Rob Phinisee. That trash-talking pendulum has swung is way, and he had his magical moment. Those kind of moments, they never fade away in Indiana history.
"Finally. We finally beat Purdue,'' Phinisee said. "That was, what, 0-6? We just needed this win. We needed this win bad. It's huge. It's really huge. They're the fourth ranked team in the country, so it's really a schedule booster at the end of the season.
"Really we just have to celebrate tonight and then tomorrow we're back at it at practice and got to get ready for Michigan (on Sunday). We've just got to take it one game at a time.''
That game-at-a-time mentality is real, but that memory? It will last forever.