By Dustin Dopirak
Armaan Franklin rolled his left ankle with the ball in his hand, trying to crossover a Maryland defender in the lane and instead collapsing in a heap before he limped off the floor Monday night and never returned.
It was on that offensive side of the floor where Indiana expected to miss their blossoming sophomore guard the most, considering that he came into the game averaging 18.8 points in his last five contests. However, it was also an extremely inopportune time to lose his defensive presence.
The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder has matured as a defender this season almost as quickly as he’s made a leap as a scorer. He entered Monday night’s game leading the Hoosiers with 15 steals, and IU coach Archie Miller has grown accustomed to using him against IU’s opponents’ top wings. Maryland’s offense, which entered Monday’s game ranked 11th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, is based entirely on such players with three guards 6-5 or taller in its starting lineup. After a narrow 87-85 overtime escape against Penn State last week in which the Hoosiers suffered far too many perimeter breakdowns, the last thing Indiana needed was to lose their top wing defender.
But even without Franklin for the game’s final 33 minutes, Indiana posted its best defensive performance in weeks and certainly its best in four Big Ten games so far. The Hoosiers held the Terps to 38.5 percent shooting in a 63-55 win, with the field goal percentage and the points both being season lows for an Indiana conference opponent. Undersized on the perimeter and in a sense oversized at the power forward spot, the Hoosiers kept the Terps from killing them on the dribble, mostly prevented wide-open shots and dominated on the glass to improve to 7-4 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten. It’s an important sign, because Miller said he expects Franklin to be doubtful in the Hoosiers’ next two games.
“We hadn’t been able to close recently defensively,” Miller said. “That was a big difference tonight”
Miller said Sunday that he would extend his rotation in order to keep Indiana’s legs fresher, realizing he’d been relying too heavily on seven players and especially heavily on six. He noticed that causing problems with on-the-ball defense with players starting to lose their legs over the course of games and breaking down.
He did that to some extent, in part by necessity because of the injury to Franklin. Freshman guard Anthony Leal played 12 minutes and freshman wing Jordan Geronimo stepped in for 5. But mostly, the Hoosiers won because their veterans played better and embraced the adjustments in their roles. Some of those were by virtue of Franklin’s injury, but others were because of the extent to which Maryland spreads the floor and forces post players to guard the perimeter.
“This was a guard-the-ball game,” Miller said. “You are going to have to guard the ball against Maryland. A lot of five out weave. Their fours and fives can really cause problems.”
But the Hoosiers largely kept the dribble in front of them, extensively switching screens and other motions. They gave up a modest 24 points in the paint, holding their leading scorers for the season — point guard Eric Ayala and hard-driving power forward Donta Scott — under double figures. Junior wing Aaron Wiggins still burned them for 22 points with four 3-pointers, but wing Hakim Hart was second on the team with 10 with six of those coming on 3s.
“I thought we did really well with switching up coverages,” IU sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “We almost played five out and then, us two (meaning him and Race Thompson) and the other forwards were big guarding the ball and guarding guards, and switching on to them, and being able to keep them in front. I thought we did pretty well on that.”
Indeed, the Hoosiers got strong perimeter defense from starting guards Rob Phinisee, Al Durham and Trey Galloway, but Thompson and redshirt sophomore Jerome Hunter were also effective staying in front of the dribble. Thompson, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, was especially effective at defending the 6-7, 230-pound Scott.
“I thought his defense in particular in this game, guarding the dribble was really important,” Miller said.
And just as important as guarding the dribble was making sure that when the Hoosiers were successful in doing so, they didn’t blow it by giving up second chances. So it helped that Indiana was overwhelming on the defensive glass.
With Jackson-Davis and Thompson each posting double-doubles with 15 and 11 rebounds respectively, the Hoosiers won the rebounding battle 43-33 and allowed just six offensive rebounds while grabbing 31 defensive boards. The Terps finished with just four second-chance points, the fewest the Hoosiers have allowed in a game all season. It was the first time the Hoosiers won the rebounding battle by 10 since their win over North Alabama on Dec. 13.
“That rebounding margin tonight, we hadn’t had that in a while,” Miller said. “Only turned it over 10 times and rebounded like that, you are going to give yourself a chance to win the game.”
With Franklin out, the Hoosiers have to continue to be that aggressive on the glass and that disciplined against the dribble, because they did in fact experience more of a drop off without him on the offensive end. Durham scored 13 points, but he was the only guard with more than six.
“That is what is going to be needed here moving forward as we head into the rest of the season,” Miller said. “Guys are going to need to step up when their number is called and they are going to have to do a good job in the areas they can. The more experience they get the better they will be.”
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