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My Two Cents: Phinisee, Hoosiers Get Their Generational Moment in Win Over Purdue

There is a new top to Rob Phinisee's up-and-down career at Indiana after the Lafayette senior had the game of a lifetime on Thursday, scoring a career-high 20 points and nailing a late three-pointer to beat No 4 Purdue, ending a nine-game losing streak to their archrival.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Time and space. Moments that matter, Locations that matter. And when you can say "it's just something I won't ever forget,'' you can take it at face value and know that it's true.

A memory made to last a lifetime.

Rob Phinisee had that moment on Thursday night in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The oft-beleaguered senior from Lafayette, Ind. scored a career-high 20 points, had a magical 13-point, 4-minute stretch in the first half that set the Hall on fire and got a ride on the shoulders of his teammates when students stormed the court after Indiana's thrilling 68-65 win over Purdue thanks to Phinisee's game-winning three pointer with 16 seconds left.

Maybe it doesn't have an instant moniker like ''Wat-Shot'' or the catchy phrase like ''do you remember the 10th of December?'' — of course we do, and always will — but what happened on January the 20th of 2022 will always be a night to file away as one of the great moments in Indiana basketball lore. It's not "The Shot'' from Keith Smart, the one that won a national title.

But it was pretty damn cool.

It's certainly a moment that these current students won't ever forget, because it's been almost six years since Indiana has beaten Purdue. Nine straight losses to the hated Boilermakers, including five in a row at home, which tied a record for futility in the hallowed Assembly Hall.

I'm not a big court-storming guy, but there are times where it's OK. Last night, it was OK. Much like Watford's shot 10 years ago signaled the end of an ugly decade of Indiana basketball, Thursday night's win put a bow on six years of frustration, too.

What's funny is that Phinisee has often been the poster child for these recent frustrating years. It was a huge deal when he came to Indiana right out of Lafayette. That just doesn't happen. He was Indiana's first recruit right out of Purdue's back yard in more than 70 years.

And then just a month into his Indiana career, he hit a shot at the buzzer to beat Butler in the Crossroads Classic, and "Big Shot Rob'' was born. The problem, though, was that the great nights were few and far between. Sure, he beat Penn State with a game-winner and then there was Thursday, his best-ever performance in game No. 101 as a Hoosier.

But in between, there's been a ton of frustrating performances, too. He averaged nearly 30 points a game as a senior in high school, and was a high-profile, high-volume scorer with a reputation.

But hitting shots has been an issue. He's shot just 35.7 percent from the field in his career, and just under 30 percent from three. Once on confident, cocky in a good way scorer with a bit of swagger, he got crushed under the weight of disappointment, and he had a coach — Archie Miller — who didn't have the skills to help him.

And then came Mike Woodson, a Hoosier legend who's one of the greatest players in school history. He's also one of the best ''guys,'' and he took fixing Phinisee as a project when he took over.

Because he knew.

He knew that Phinisee was going to help win games at some point. Woodson's job was to convince Phinisee that he could do it, too. Rebuilding that confidence level was a challenge, a constant work in progress. Even as recently as Thursday afternoon, the two were having important heart-to-heart conversations.

And it paid off in a huge way.

"The thing when I look at Rob, he is a senior that's been around. He has had his ups and downs, and when I took the job, I sat down with everybody that decided to stay, and I told Rob, hey, what happened in the past is in the past, man,'' Woodson said. "I'm telling you, you can shoot it. You can do your thing, man, and it's OK to be good. It's OK to be great.

"I told him tonight in the locker room, regardless of what anybody says, I'm always going to be in your corner. That's all he needs right there. When the coach is by your side, you should cherish it and just play not only for Rob, but for the jersey that you wear. He has been great. He has had his ups and downs, but I thought tonight he was on a mission, boy, and it was nice to see.''

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It was more than just Phinisee's moment, too, on Thursday. That was a Xavier Johnson legacy game, too. It's only been a month since Indiana ''fans'' were booing him off the court in Indianapolis after some poor play against Notre Dame. 

But he is this team's starting point guard for a reason. He can get downhill quickly, and he can break down defenses, which he did often on Thursday. Phinisee's 17-point first half was exceptional, but Johnson scored eight points, too. The pair scored 25 of Indiana's 37 first-half points.

And then there is Michael Durr, the 7-foot center from South Florida who transferred here to Indiana for games like this. Purdue's two talented centers — 7-foot-4 Zach Edey and 6-10 Trevion Williams — are a handful for everyone. Indiana knew they were going to need at least a little bit of production from Durr, but then star Trayce Jackson-Davis got into foul trouble, and he had to play a season-high 24 minumtes.

He played great, and frustrated the heck out of Purdue's big guys. They combine to average 30 points a game — and scored 14 on Thursday night.

"I thought he was solid,'' Woodson said. "With Edey and Williams, you can't give those guys angles. You give them angles, then the ball is coming, and you can't catch up to stop them from scoring. You've just got to pretty much make them work, and Mike is a big body. I thought he did a good job in battling, trying to keep them in front and making them make plays over the top.''

And even Jackson-Davis, who only played 11 minutes because of foul trouble, made massive plays down the stretch too to seal the win. He forced Williams into a tough shot and then slid across the lane to force a tough shot out of Purdue's Jaden Ivey, who was tremendous in the second. It allowed Indiana to have a chance, and Phinisee made the dagger to go ahead.

Jackson-Davis even made two free throws to give Indiana that three-point lead, forcing Ivey to take a long three at the buzzer. It didn't go, and Indiana had its huge win.

They are now 14-4, and 5-3 in the Big Ten. The win was big, and it was also huge for what might come down the road. This team is suddenly a threat to the best teams in the league.

"It's huge. It's really huge,'' Phinisee said. "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 at Assembly Hall). We've just got to take it one game at a time.''

Phinisee said that his mother, Tanika Phinisee, never pushed him toward Indiana or Purdue as a kid, and that he was just a huge basketball fan living in the shadow of Mackey Arena. They are an IU family now, though, even in the wrong town.

"I think I went to one or two games back when Purdue was really good with JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel and all them,'' Phinisee said. "A lot of my family went to Purdue. My mom never really pushed me to be a Purdue fan or an IU fan. I was just a basketball fan when I was a kid. I know the rivalries are super intense, and once I got here, I really actually felt it from just everybody. I know they had a little streak on us, so, yeah, this is really, really huge.''

The court-storming was something else, too, because it happened so fast

"I was trying to make my way through the crowd to my teammates, and then once we got all in a circle, I think it was X actually who started it. X tried to pick me up and Trayce picked me up, and all the teammates picked me up,'' Phinisee said. "It was just a surreal experience I won't forget. I just love my teammates, and I love Indiana University.''

And Indiana University loved him right back. Now, that Purdue fans count of 2,160 days that Indiana had gone without a win this rivalry, that can go away.

And a new count can begin. It's been 320 days since Purdue has beaten Indiana in basketball. 

Thanks, Big Shot Rob.

  • GAME STORY: Lafayette native Rob Phinisee had the game of his life on Thursday night, scoring 20 points and hitting the game-winning three-pointer to beat No. 4 Purdue 68-65. It snapped a nine-game losing streak to his hometown school, and finally gave him some bragging rights. CLICK HERE
  • VIEWERSHIP RECORD: Indiana's thrilling win over Purdue was must-see TV, and it showed. It was the most watched game ever on FOX Sports 1, the network announced Friday. There were more than 954,000 viewers. Here's the story. CLICK HERE
  • WHAT WOODSON SAID: Here's the full video and transcript from Indiana coach Mike Woodson's postgame press conference on Thursday night after the Hoosiers beat Purdue 68-65. CLICK HERE

  • LIVE BLOG: Relive all the play-by-play from Indiana's 68-65 win over Purdue in our live blog from press row on Thursday night. CLICK HERE