If not now, when?
That was the prevailing thought after Indiana’s first-half performance against North Alabama.
As the team came out flat and the guard play continued to worsen, the frustration grew.
Indiana’s starting guards shot a combined 3-for-12 from the field in the first half. They combined for six turnovers. Offensive performances like that could be understood if not excused against a team with tenacious on-ball defenders like Texas, or a team with unique length and athleticism like Florida State.
But against a low-major North Alabama team?
Head coach Archie Miller was having none of it.
“Coach got into us,” Armaan Franklin said about the halftime locker room. “11 turnovers in a half is unacceptable. It lit a fire under us.”
When the Hoosiers came out after halftime holding a 40-24 lead attributable to strong defense, a switch flipped.
Rob Phinisee knocked down back-to-back three pointers. Then Armaan Franklin did the same. Then freshman Anthony Leal joined the party. All of a sudden just eight minutes into the second half Indiana was 9-for-22 from three for the game.
The Hoosiers opened up a 24-point lead and never looked back, winning 87-52 and making 13 of 33 three pointers.
“We’re going to have to open the floor,” Miller said after the game. “We’re going to have to be more than willing to shoot the ball. In the second half, the guys opened the floor up. If we start to develop a catch-and-shoot mentality where the ball is going in, we’re going to be a tough cover.”
The offensive explosion, which essentially came out of nowhere, was even more encouraging given that Indiana was able to keep up its elite defensive play throughout the game. An overmatched North Alabama team had no answers for Indiana’s suffocating pack-line defense, going 21-for63 from the field and committing 18 turnovers.
No matter what lineup Archie Miller put on the floor, it was a safe bet that they were going to bring the fire and compete as hard as they could on the defensive end. North Alabama, a team that had been scoring 87 points per game coming into Assembly Hall, was limited to 52.
“Our perimeter quickness is better and we’re much more disciplined off the ball,” Miller said about his team’s defensive performance. “It means a lot to the these guys. Our defense is going to have to be good.”
Perhaps most encouraging was the play of Armaan Franklin, who had the look of Indiana’s best overall player against North Alabama. Not only did he keep up his high standard of defensive play, Franklin finally showed the three point range he was known for at Cathedral High School, knocking down five from long range. Franklin finished with a career-high 19 points, four rebounds, and five assists, showing off the complete player he has become.
Franklin attributed his strong shooting performance to just keeping things simple.
“Just getting in a rhythm, stepping into it with confidence, said Franklin. “Following through and knocking it down.”
His coach was impressed, and continues to be impressed, by Franklin’s high-level play.
“I think that’s the Armaan we get used to seeing,” Miller said. “He’s turning into a terrific player early in the season here for us.”
For his part, Trayce Jackson-Davis turned in a workmanlike performance with 15 points and 7 rebounds, getting whatever he wanted against the undersized Lions. But this was a game for others to develop. More than anything else, Sunday’s game was a final opportunity to let the young players gain experience and the veterans gain confidence.
Indiana doesn’t have another game against a non-Butler, non-Big Ten opponent. And on Sunday, each of the freshmen, Indiana’s core for the future, had great moments. In the first half Trey Galloway shined, throwing down a huge dunk in transition and scoring nine points on 4/4 shooting.
At the end of that half Jordan Geronimo stole the ball and finished with a tear drop buzzer-beater. He ended up doing a little bit of everything, scoring 4 points and grabbing 4 rebounds.
In the second half, Anthony Leal showed confidence, knocking down a three pointer and taking a few more that looked good. Khristian Lander, who Miller compared to the youngest son in a family, came into his own in his extended minutes, showing the combination of speed, shooting, and athleticism that made him such an enticing prospect.
“It’s just building our confidence up,” Lander said after the game.
In the end, walking off the court with more confidence might have been the key to this game.
Miller was able to see his team keep up their consistently elite defensive effort, while the perimeter shooters and freshmen were left feeling a little better about themselves.
And in the end — who cares about an ugly first half?
It was mission accomplished.
Now on to the fun part — 21 straight against high major competition.
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