Indiana got some experience away from home, and tonight it is back in Assembly Hall for another chance at its first Big Ten win.
The Hoosiers “took their medicine” as coach Archie Miller said after a brutal loss to Wisconsin on Saturday and bounced back with a hard-fought victory against Connecticut at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.
“It's a long year,” center Joey Brunk said of the message after the loss to Wisconsin. “There's no reason to panic, there's no reason to jump ship yet. There's going to be some ups and downs, and that's just how the season goes.”
With that message now firmly entrenched in their minds, the Hoosiers (9-1) welcome Nebraska to Assembly Hall. Indiana is 8-0 in Bloomington this season, and the Cornhuskers are in the first year of a rebuild under new coach Fred Hoiberg. This isn't the most intimidating Big Ten matchup on the schedule, but it's an important one as the Hoosiers try to avoid an 0-2 start in conference play.
Indiana enters the matchup against the Cornhuskers (4-5) healthier than it has been all season. For the first time since the season began, all 11 scholarship players were available against Connecticut. Point guard Robert Phinisee, who had missed the last four games with an ankle injury, had six points, four rebounds and two assists in 13 minutes in his return to the lineup against the Huskies and was a steadying force on the defensive end.
“He played more in tonight's game than he's practiced all year,” Miller said of Phinisee. “I'm happy for him, he's had a really, really tough start to the year. He has not been able to get over the hump (and on to the court). Hopefully, this is a good sign in getting him back.”
Miller emphasized that he's comfortable playing all 11 players and believes they all can contribute, which makes Indiana deeper and more versatile than most of the teams it will face.
That versatility allows Miller to mix and match with different lineups for different situations.
The win over Connecticut saw the debut of a lineup that might get more run as the season goes on: a group with freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis at center and one of Indiana's numerous 6-foot-7 players at power forward. It is a smaller, quicker lineup with plenty of shooting ability.
“The one thing that's unique about playing Trayce at the 5 position is that you become really quick defensively,” Miller said. “Justin (Smith), Damezi (Anderson) and Jerome (Hunter), they have enough size that I think they can handle some (power forwards).
“I thought our defense got amped up when Trayce was out there at the center position. He held his own and then we started to get some more deflections.”
The Cornhuskers are coming off a loss to Creighton in which they fell behind 37-7. They have losses against Southern Utah and UC Riverside and rank 322nd in the country in scoring defense, giving up 77.2 points per game.
Indiana's two-game trip away from Assembly Hall was a wakeup call for some of the younger players as they faced adversity with the Hoosiers for the first time. If Nebraska takes a lead early, Indiana will be much less likely to panic than it would have been a week ago.
“We're learning how to deal with other teams' runs, and we're learning to respond with our runs,” Smith said. “We're still learning how to win, especially in these tough games.”
Indiana vs. Nebraska
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington
Records: Indiana (9-1), Nebraska (4-5)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1250 AM