– Rob Phinisee had to bring it.
Indiana’s junior guard had no choice Tuesday night. The need was great, the opportunity greater.
The Hoosiers had to beat Michigan State.
With three minutes left, it was there for the taking.
And then, it wasn’t.
With fellow guard Armaan Franklin out indefinitely with a foot injury, with big men Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson, Jerome Hunter and Jordan Geronimo battling foul trouble, Phinisee went to work at the Breslin Center, and delivered.
The problem – his 16 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals weren’t enough.
With so much at stake, crunch-time big plays from freshmen Khristian Lander, Trey Galloway and Jordan Geronimo put the Hoosiers on the cusp of a huge road victory.
They weren’t enough.
Enter Michigan State’s Aaron Henry, a former Indianapolis high school standout. He went to work, and potential Cream and Crimson victory became a 64-58 defeat.
“The last four minutes they were tough to defend,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “Aaron Henry made some crucial plays late.
“We didn’t convert in the last two and a half minutes, but I’m proud of how hard we played. We gave ourselves a chance to win.”
IU fell to 12-13 overall, 7-11 in the Big Ten.
Michigan State, making a late-season push, is 14-10 and 8-10.
Jackson-Davis, who had 34 points in the first meeting, was limited to a season-low nine points on 1-for-5 shooting. The national leader in free throw attempts, he was 7-for-10 from the line.
“They did a much better job on him,” Miller said. “He didn’t have an easy time once he caught the ball with all the bodies around the basket.”
Added Phinisee: “We tried to get him the ball and get him rolling.”
Michigan State’s inside defensive emphasis gave IU three-point opportunities it couldn’t exploit. It was just 2-for-20 from beyond the arc.
“The ball didn’t go in, period,” Miller said. “With the way Michigan State plays, they will give you three-point shots. Guys have to bang them.”
Michigan State wasn’t much better at 4-for-17 from three-point range. One of those was from Henry, who finished with 22 points.
“We didn’t have a great matchup against him,” Miller said. “He’s a great driver.”
In a game that featured 10 lead changes and eight ties, 45 fouls were called and 59 free throws attempted.
“It was one of the most physical games we’ve seen,” Miller said.
Hoosier toughness was personified by Thompson, who took an inadvertent first-half elbow to a face masked because of a previously broken nose.
He left the game, but returned for the second half. He finished with eight points, four rebounds and two blocks.
Sloppy offense was everywhere you looked in the first half. After 13 minutes the teams had combined for 10 turnovers and nine baskets. IU led 18-14. Jackson-Davis had seven of those points, plus six rebounds.
Defense kept ruling. By halftime, the teams were a combined 2-for-21 from three-point range. Jackson-Davis and Thompson each had two fouls. Freshman Jordan Geronimo had three fouls.
Phinisee emerged as the key with nine points, three rebounds, two steals and an assist.
The result – a 26-26 halftime tie.
Six fouls were called in the first two and a half minutes of the second. One was on Jackson-Davis, which gave him three, which sent him to the bench for a couple of minutes.
Still, IU inched ahead 35-31. A Phinisee 3-pointer — his second of the game and just the Hoosiers’ second in 16 attempts — pushed the Hoosiers to a 38-33 lead, their biggest of the game.
Michigan State rallied behind consecutive baskets from Gabe Brown for a 42-39 advantage.
Back came the Hoosiers. Lander lasered a pass to a streaking Thompson for a basket, then added a basket of his own for a brief one-point IU lead. Geronimo and Galloway followed with baskets for more brief one-point Hoosier leads. The last one came at 49-48.
This was part of a four-minute stretch that featured six lead changes and a tie as the clock tied under five minutes.
Then Henry took over to finish the Hoosiers, just as he’d done a couple of weeks earlier at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
“They were going to him every time,” Phinisee said. “If we had fronted the post better, it would have limited his possessions.”
Added Miller: “We played hard. We didn’t play well enough to win.”
IU ends the regular season Saturday at Purdue. Veterans Thompson and Aljami Durham have never beaten the Boilers.
“We have to bounce back against Purdue,” Phinisee said. “It would be really big for Al and Race to beat Purdue since they haven’t beaten them.
“We have to get after it in practice and go on to the next one.”