Against Illinois Saturday, Indiana went 0-9 from three-point range, which marked the first time the Hoosiers went hitless from three since 2010.
Just a few days later, Indiana made eight on 22 attempts from beyond the arc.
Leading the turnaround was an unlikely source: Anthony Leal.
Leal entered the game in the first half, and immediately made an impact with two buckets from long range to help extend Indiana’s lead. Leal continued his effort into the final 20 minutes and knocked down two pivotal free throws in the late minutes to seal a Hoosier victory.
Leal ended with a career-high 13 points on Tuesday night en route to the 74-68 win for Indiana, along with adding seven rebounds and an assist to his name.
Leal’s effort provided a spark for a bench that just scored two points last weekend against Illinois, with both of those points being his own. His play was enough to earn himself the game ball from Mike Woodson, who had nothing but positives for his senior guard.
“I gave him the game ball after the game… It was a nice carry-over because I thought he played well in the Illinois game,” Woodson said. “That’s why we elected him to come in early and play him and he responded for us which was kind of nice.”
Anthony Leal grew up a Hoosier and a local, attending Bloomington South where he won the 2020 Indiana Mr. Basketball award. Although his recruitment included a number of schools, there was little surprise when he committed to the Hoosiers.
Since joining the program, Leal has never been granted the opportunity to be “the guy,” like his high school days. However, even through a coaching change and a continuous limited role, he understands that there’s more to appreciate with the program he grew up in awe of.
“I think just really coming to work every day and understanding that me just putting on this jersey for practice is more than a dream come true for me,” Leal said Tuesday evening.
Even though he has seen extended time on the bench, Leal gives credit to his support system that has given him the confidence needed to improve, whether that be coaches, players, or a fellow Bloomington native who was a good shooter himself in an Indiana uniform.
“I work out with coach (Jordan) Hulls almost every day,” Leal said. “He’s someone that I’ve always looked up to so he’s been really, really good for me in my corner. I think just overall my teammates give me confidence, they trust me, they know that I’ve put in the work.”
Before this season, Anthony Leal’s minutes had been in decline since his freshman year, and his total games played were down as well. With limited opportunity to see the floor each year, Leal’s role in this season’s team was questioned.
However, that did not stop him from working towards a spot in the rotation, and ultimately cracking it.
“He’s been a true, true teammate,” Woodson said. “And guys like that, it’s easy to coach. It’s easy to throw them in the game and feel good about it because you know what you’re going to get based on how he performs in practice. And he’s earned the right to play, and that’s why I’m playing him.”
Woodson’s confidence in Leal has done nothing but grow as he’s continued to see Leal improve in practice. He recognizes that, even with his role in question, Leal has impressed with his grind more than anything.
“Where I come from in the NBA, you call that a true pro,” Woodson said. “And Anthony is the ultimate teammate, man, in terms of just hanging in there with me. And I’ve coached him, and he’s come to practice every day and has done what’s asked of him and never complained, not once.”
Leal has appeared in nine games so far this season, averaging 10 minutes in those games, and that’s with an injury that has left him unavailable in some cases. Even while only averaging 1.6 points on the year, Woodson recognized how quickly Leal can be an x-factor on both sides of the ball, if given the opportunity.
“I thought he was huge,” Woodson said. “13 points, seven rebounds. I mean, defended his ass off.”
With his performance against Iowa, there is little doubt that the senior will continue to earn minutes the rest of the season, and with uncertainty regarding the health of both Xavier Johnson and Malik Reneau, his role could become substantial.
However, the attitude remains the same for others waiting for their name to be called – next man up. With Leal’s performance on Tuesday night, it’s safe to say that he understands that mentality, and believes the rest of the team knows it too.
“One guy goes down, we know the next guy’s got to step up. And we’re all committed to winning and doing what we need to do to win,” Leal said.
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