By Dustin Dopirak —
Archie Miller never considered another option.
The shot clock was off. The game was tied. The Indiana coach had to pick one of his guards to take the ball and make a play, either to create his own shot or find someone who could if he was denied. In such situations, he wants the ball in the hands of Armaan Franklin.
And it did not matter to Miller one bit that his sophomore guard and leading perimeter scorer for the season had missed eight of his nine shots up until that point on Sunday and had only scored two points.
“If you’re going to be able to take the last shot and the clock is winding down, that’s the guy we want to get the ball too,” Miller said. “… He’s our best guy, our most physical guy being able to get to the basket and draw a foul.”
Franklin proved Miller right. He dribbled down the clock at the top of the key from 20 seconds to five, feinted to his right, then went left to use a ball screen action from redshirt junior forward Race Thompson. That created just enough space between Franklin and Iowa guard Joe Wieskamp for Franklin to pull up from 15 feet. The shot was pure, putting the Hoosiers up 67-65 with 1.6 seconds to go, and Franklin bounded down the floor pointing at his mother and brothers wearing No. 2 jerseys in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall’s eastern grandstand.
After an Iowa timeout, the Hoosiers sealed their second win over the No. 8 Hawkeyes in three weeks, improving to 10-8 overall, 5-6 in the Big Ten and grabbing a critical third Quad 1 win that they’ll be able to point too if they’re still on the NCAA Tournament bubble a month from now.
“I got doing downhill and saw him leaning,” Franklin said. “Hit a step-back and just let it go. My teammates had ultimate confidence in me. Coach had confidence in me to give me the ball in that moment. It just paid off.”
This remains a deeply flawed Indiana basketball team, and so much of that is evident in Sunday’s box score. The Hoosiers made just 23 of 64 field goal attempts (35.9 percent) including one of their first 12 and five of their first 27. Their three starting guards – Franklin, junior Rob Phinisee and senior Aljami Durham — made just four of their 26 field goal attempts with two of those makes coming in the game’s final two minutes.
The Hoosiers fell behind 17-4 to start the first half, took a 35-31 lead right after halftime, then allowed Iowa to go on a 14-0 run to take a double-digit lead early in the second half. They struggled to score at the rim, making just 7 of 22 layups in the game, and allowed Iowa to hit its first five 3-pointers. There were so many signs that Sunday’s game should have ended in disaster for Indiana.
And yet, by sheer virtue of Indiana’s perseverance — which at this point might be its most important resource — it ended in what could turn out to be the Hoosiers’ most important win of the season. Miller put trust in both his bench and in his starters at times when each decision might have been questionable and ended up being rewarded.
“There wasn’t one guy who checked in that game today who didn’t do something to help us at a different time in the game,” Miller said. “I think that’s a testament to their work ethic. Our staff has done a really good job of plugging away and just getting guys better. We have a number of guys right now that are really helping and contributing. You can’t really withstand some of the numbers we had for portions of the game. We couldn’t do that earlier in the year. If our guards didn’t play almost perfectly, we would never have an opportunity to be in the game.”
On Sunday, the Indiana veteran guards were about as far from perfect as they could be. At the half, Franklin, Phinisee and Durham were a combined 1 of 12 from the field with a 3-pointer from Durham being the only bucket. Sophomore center Trayce Jackson-Davis wasn’t doing much to bail them out either with four points on 2 of 7 shooting.
But the Hoosiers stayed in it on the strength of a four-man group of freshmen who always bring energy even if they don’t always know where they’re supposed to be.
In the first half, guard Anthony Leal had two key steals, an assist and a pair of 3-pointers. Swiftly improving point guard Khristian Lander hit a massive 3-point shot, dished out an assist and ran the offense relatively smoothly when Phinisee was off the floor. Forward Jordan Geronimo had a pair of buckets around the rim and matched up well with Indiana’s forwards, and wing Trey Galloway brought five minutes of steady defense on the perimeter.
Thanks in large part to their defense, Iowa made just two of its last 16 first half shots after making eight of its first 11. Indiana, meanwhile, made six of its last seven in the half and finished the period on a 9-0 run with the last six points coming from freshmen.
To watch those guys come in, get hit around, get knocked down, It’s not easy,” Miller said. “Sometimes guys pick up and leave. Sometimes they don’t get back up. These four guys have hung with it good and they have made us better.”
The Hoosiers also got exceptional play on both ends from Thompson, their rock. In the first half he had eight points and five rebounds and helped hold Iowa All-American center Luka Garza to two points and just one field goal in eight minutes with help from Garza’s foul trouble. Thompson finished with 16 points, six rebounds and four blocks and Garza had 18 points on 6 of 14 shooting and just two rebounds.
“Race is incredible,” Franklin said. “Every time, both times we played them he has done a solid job on him. I know it is a tough cover to handle by his self, but you know he stepped up to the challenge every game and just battled his heart out, left it all on the floor.”
In the second half, the Hoosiers played even better collective defense, holding Iowa to 9 of 24 shooting, including 2 of 10 from beyond the 3-point arc. Jackson-Davis finally got going with 13 points on 5 of 5 shooting to finish with 17 points and 12 rebounds in the game.
And as bad as they had been most of the game, Miller still stuck with his starting guards in the game’s last five minutes to go. This was despite the fact that, with 5:20 to go, they were a combined 1 of 21 from the field.
“We were going to need the ability to see if we can’t get some stops and let’s no let the game break away giving them some easy ones,” Miller said. “I thought more than anything we continued to buckle down and Rob, Armaan, you trust those guys defensively.”
The Hawkeyes scored seven points in the game’s last five minutes thanks to two field goals by Garza and 3-pointer by guard Jordan Bohannon, but Indiana came through with bigger buckets.
Phinisee scored for the first time since Jan. 24 with a 3-pointer on the move with 1:39 to go to tie the game when Indiana had fallen behind by 3. He was scoreless in 13 minutes against Illinois on Tuesday and had missed his first seven shots on Sunday.
“We were in a little trouble there,” Miller said. “He rose up and hit a big three for us off the bounce. He stuck with it, did not have his best outing, did not have his best week but I thought he had a good finish to the game.”
Franklin didn’t have his best outing either. He finished with five assists and six rebounds, but just four points, almost nine below his average. It was just the second time in his last 11 appearances that he failed to score in double figures, with the other being the Maryland game on Jan. 4 when he sprained his left ankle after seven minutes of game action and missed that game and the next two afterward.
But Miller and the Hoosiers put faith in him on Indiana’s last offensive play, and that allowed him to forget the rest of his day.
“They believe in us you know; we are going to hit the big shot,” Franklin said. “So, it was not really a confidence thing. You have got to go out there and keep shooting because everybody has confidence in you and they are going to get you the ball in those moments.”
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