With fellow starter Al Durham, Jr. out of the lineup, sophomore guard Armaan Franklin knew he was going to have to look to score a bit more on Wednesday afternoon in Asheville.
But against Stanford, the other end of the floor was on the top of Franklin’s mind coming into the game.
Franklin’s assignment on the defensive end was a tall task — literally and figuratively.
6-foot-8 freshman wing Ziaire Williams was a 5-star recruit for the Cardinal, the No. 6 player in the class of 2020 according to the 247Sports Composite.
Williams has the versatility of a guard and the size of a forward. He’s a matchup problem for most teams.
But head coach Archie Miller knew Franklin was the one player on his roster with the attributes to take the challenge head on.
And the 6-foot-4 Franklin delivered in a big way, limiting Williams to just 4 points on 1-of-10 shooting from the field.
“Becoming one of the best defenders we have,” Miller said of Franklin after the game. He’s guarding bigger players, smaller players, all over the floor. He’s accountable right now. He’s playing much tougher.”
The ask of Franklin was substantial on this day.
Guard the best player, and pick up the slack on the offensive end.
Oh, and play 40 minutes.
Franklin did all of that, and also managed to tie his career high with eight rebounds — something Miller has been emphasizing from his guards.
“And one of the things that I love about Armaan right now is a year ago at this time I was begging him to rebound. I was begging him to mix it up and get it dirty,” Miller said.
Franklin is averaging six rebounds over his last five games.
With his sophomore guard working so hard on the defensive end and delivering on the glass, Miller was sure that Franklin was going to need to catch his breath a time or two on Wednesday.
Franklin wasn’t interested.
“I asked him about three or four times if he needed a blow, ‘Nope, I’m good, I don’t need a blow.’ Armaan is a physically-conditioned athlete. He can run all day. He was our pre-season strength and conditioning award winner as true freshman. He’s in incredible shape and now he’s 12, 13 pounds heavier and he’s a year older.
“So I wasn’t worried about his conditioning level. He’s the guy every day that I don’t worry about.”
Franklin did it all for Indiana against Stanford, producing his second highest scoring effort as a Hoosier with 13 points, and adding 5 assists as he pushed the tempo off of Cardinal misses.
Franklin has looked hesitant at times early in his career at Indiana.
But his teammates know that he is capable of big days like this.
“The solid defense that he was playing, we’re going to need that all year,” Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “On top of that, doing it for 40 minutes, and being able to be in that shape is really good for him. I think he played really well. Going downhill I thought he made really great passes, and he rebounded the ball today really well as well.”
Franklin is more of the blue-collar type of player. Quiet, unassuming, doesn’t seek the spotlight.
But he also doesn’t back down from a challenge.
How did he defend so well against Williams, who came in averaging 14.5 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field?
“Just locked in on him. Didn’t give him easy looks. Just tried to make it difficult and be physical with him,” Franklin said.
While he gave up four inches to Williams, the staff believed Franklin could make up for it with his strength and conditioning.
Franklin hadn’t been posting big numbers before Wednesday when it comes to some of the more sexy stats on the sheet.
But if you were wondering why he has been starting and playing so much — watch him on the defensive end.
The bottom line? Franklin competes.
“Today he (Williams) did have a big size advantage, but it’s all heart,” Franklin said. “There’s not really much to it. Be physical, don’t get blown by, stay in front.”
It’s just that simple for Franklin.
His coach would still like a little more from his emerging sophomore.
At the top of the list — more leadership, and more bringing along his teammates.
It seems fairly clear by now, if Miller asks enough, Franklin will deliver.
“We would like to see a little more emotion out of him and we’ll try very hard to keep pulling that out of him, but I think he showed today, and in this tournament in general, how important he is to our team,” Miller said.
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