When the final horn sounded at Welsh-Ryan Arena, there were only happy expressions amongst the Hoosiers.
Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis came up behind Al Durham and hugged him, smiling wide, pulling the Hoosiers’ senior guard every which way. On the sideline, Rob Phinisee walked off with Archie Miller just behind him, with IU’s coach giving him a quick rub on the shoulders and a pat on the back of the head.
Miller told the Hoosiers after the game, of all the games this season, Wednesday’s 79-76 double-overtime win over Northwestern put the biggest smile on his face. Because for so long, the Hoosiers were so close to falling on their faces. But somehow, they found a way.
“Really on a day we probably shouldn’t have won,” Miller said.
Most of the contents of IU’s performance in regulation were not pleasant. In the first half, the Hoosiers (11-8, 6-6 Big Ten) opened by missing their first nine shots, finishing the frame at 7-of-29 from the floor. In both halves, IU was just 12-of-22 from the free throw line.
But heroics from Durham and backcourt mate Armaan Franklin, who finished with 24 and 23 points, respectively, helped the Hoosiers force one overtime. And then another.
“To be able to put it in the first overtime was incredible,” Miller said, “and to put it into the second one was probably even more.”
IU trailed by seven points, 54-47, with 2:16 remaining in regulation. But the Hosiers capitalized on Northwestern turnovers to get Durham to the foul line, who hit shot after shot. With the lead down to 54-52, Jackson-Davis stretched out his arm to force a missed layup from Chase Audige, setting up a pull-up jumper by Durham to tie.
In the second overtime, the odds were even longer. Northwestern (6-11, 3-10) was able to create a 66-60 edge with just over a minute remaining. The Hoosiers had to extend the game by fouling, which given their struggles at the line, was a risky proposition.
But Audige, who scorched IU for 17 second-half points in a Big Ten-opening loss, did not have the same touch Wednesday. He missed the frontend of a one-and-one, putting Franklin back on the line with 44 seconds left. Franklin, the hero from Sunday’s win over Iowa, swished two and cut the lead to two.
Northwestern burned some clock to set up an Audige 3-pointer, which he air-balled. That left the Hoosiers with 13.4 seconds left to get up a shot. Franklin dribbled to his right, nearly caught in a double-team. Nearly losing control of the ball as he turned to pass, Franklin double-clutched and tossed it to Durham on the wing.
Durham dribbled right, and he spotted up at the top of the key with his toe just inside the 3-point line.
“I tried to pump-fake and step back, but I missed the line,” Durham said. “It is what it is. But I knew the shot was good, if that counts for anything. I tried to step back for a 3, I didn’t make it. But I hit 2. So it is what it is.”
It was enough.
In the second overtime, IU was able to grab a lead and hold on. One pivotal play was Franklin poking at Audige’s dribble and going to the floor for a loose ball. That steal set up Rob Phinisee on the other end for two free throws, with the game tied at 70-all.
Phinisee, who at that point was 0-of-5 from the field, 0-of-4 from 3-point range, and 0-of-3 from the free throw line, hit two free throws to give IU a slight cushion. IU was a combined 15-of-16 from the line in the two overtimes, including an 11-of-12 output from Durham and Franklin.
“Putting them into both overtimes, you could kind of see the confidence in our guys continue to grow, that we were going to figure something out and find a way to do it,” Miller said.
Given the Hoosiers had lost three out of their previous four overtime games this season, just coming up clutch was huge. But in the grand scheme of this season, this win was pivotal, because IU needed to stop losing immediately after big wins.
Coming off of Sunday’s top-10 win over Iowa, Durham’s message to his teammates, throughout a double-overtime contest, was “We needed it more.”
“We haven’t been able to put two together,” Durham said. “I felt like this win, we needed it. I echoed it the whole game to them. We can keep grinding it out, keep fighting, because we need this win very bad.”
Aside from Franklin and Durham, it was Jerome Hunter who answered the shot-making bell. The redshirt sophomore wing, who missed the last two games to a coach’s decision, found himself with the ball with the shot clock running down in the second overtime.
Hunter dribbled backward from the free throw line, launching a prayer 3-pointer from the wing. It swished in, giving IU a 75-71 cushion with 15 seconds left. It preemptively nullified a 3-pointer by Audige, keeping the Hoosiers in front by a point.
From the free throw line, the Hoosiers iced it away.
“I’ve always echoed it to him, to stay with it, and we are going to need him, and he’s going to make some big plays, like tonight,” Durham said. “He hit that big 3 for us. I always told him that we need him and he needs to stay locked in, because you never know when your number is going to be called, and tonight it was.”
It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win. Whether the expressions on the Hoosiers’ faces were manifestations of joy or relief, it was better than the alternative.
Now the Hoosiers head to Columbus, Ohio, for a Saturday contest with the Buckeyes. They do it as winners of two straight. IU’s only other winning streak in conference play was a two-gamer, beating Penn State and Maryland.
“Just proud of our guys,” Miller said. “It’s a game you look back on and you say ‘I don’t know how we figured out how to get a win in this one.’”
(above photo courtesy of IU Athletics)