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In Tight Loss to Illinois, Armaan Franklin Continues to Search for Help in the Backcourt

Armaan Franklin continues to be the biggest revelation for Indiana this season, playing with a confidence that seemed implausible last season when the sophomore struggled. Against Illinois on Saturday, his stellar play continued, even in a loss.

Going into this game, the same could not be said for his counterparts in the backcourt, whether it was Rob Phinisee or Al Durham. But in the beginning of the second of half of the game, something changed. The Hoosiers finally got the play they were hoping for from Phinisee and Durham. 

Perhaps it was Archie Miller’s decision to replace Phinisee in the starting lineup with Trey Galloway. Maybe it is Al Durham finally getting to full strength after an ankle injury earlier in the season. It could just be two competitors saying, “enough is enough.”

Whatever it is, Indiana and Archie Miller don’t care. If their two veteran guards play like they did in the second half against the Fighting Illini, the ceiling on this 2020-21 season becomes significantly higher for the Hoosiers. 

Too many times this year Phinisee has looked unsure of himself, rarely pulling the trigger on fastbreak opportunities and holding the ball for the majority of the shot clock, leading to a bad shot. 

Durham has been the opposite, often forcing shots that aren’t smart, throwing up wild attempts around the rim that have no chance at going in. His three point shooting has been inconsistent, as the career 35 percent shooter has shot it at a 27 percent clip so far this season.

On Saturday, the veteran backcourt kept Indiana in the game in the early stages of the second half, before ceding the spotlight to Franklin, who has burst onto the scene in a big way, becoming the Hoosiers’ go-to guy on the perimeter. Unfortunately for Indiana, the moment was seized by Ayo Dosunmu, who made all the plays late in the game and scored 30 points.

The Fighting Illini are the eighteenth-best team in the nation for good reason. A loss to this team, featuring the likes of Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, is nothing to be ashamed of. 

Neither Durham nor Phinisee had the greatest game if you look at the box score. Durham finished with nine points on 4-12 shooting and Phinisee had 4 points on 2-5 shooting. 

But in the second half, those two players stepped up. And they did so without the help of Trayce Jackson-Davis, who turned in arguably his worst performance of the season with 11 points on 3-13 shooting amid foul trouble.

What Armaan Franklin has been able to do has been nothing short of remarkable. The sophomore guard had 23 points and hit five threes, his third career-high of the season. He continues to pour in points while also being the team’s defensive stopper. 

Maybe the early-second half performance by the backcourt was a mirage, but the bar for Phinisee and Durham is low based on their respective performances thus far this season. They showed signs of life against a good team, and at this point, that is an encouraging sign.

Archie Miller said after the game: “Trayce isn’t going to go 3-13 every game.” That may sound like an excuse to some, but it is a fact. 

When the Hoosiers get the type of performance they have come to expect from their star Jackson-Davis to go along with the play of Franklin, and, hopefully, their veteran backcourt, this Indiana team can be a tough out for anyone. 

“It’s very difficult to get a big guy an opportunity,” Miller said about Indiana’s deficiencies down the stretch. 

It’s true, and it’s why Durham and Phinisee have to step up, particularly late in games. Neither played their best against Illinois, but both showed flashes of the players they were expected to be going into the season. It’s a start, and it’s something to build on as IU heads into the New Year.