In one of the biggest games of the season, the ball was in Indiana sophomore Armaan Franklin’s hand.
That’s the way the 6-foot-4 guard from Indianapolis wanted it. In the leadup to Sunday’s contest with No. 8 Iowa at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, Franklin talked about the sprained ankle that was still hampering him, that IU coach Archie Miller had recently said was only at about 65 percent.
It was mostly stiffness bothering him, not as much pain. But Franklin wanted to play on.
“I don’t like sitting out, I don’t like watching my teammates work without me,” Franklin said on Saturday. “I just do what I can do on the court, try to impact the game as much as I can.”
With just a handful of seconds left Sunday, the Hoosiers needed Franklin. The game was tied, 65-all. Franklin, who was 1-of-9 from the floor at that point, found himself matched up with Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp, just one-on-one.
Franklin dribbled forward. He stepped back. He swished it.
In so many of these games, the Hoosiers have just needed one of those winning plays, a big shot. So many times, IU couldn’t find that play. But this time, in a 67-65 win — a win the Hoosiers (10-8, 5-6 Big Ten) so badly needed — they found it from Franklin.
As the clock stopped with 1.8 seconds left, Franklin pointed toward his family in the stands. His teammates, including Rob Phinisee and Trayce Jackson-Davis, came his way and offered chest bumps. Instead of falling in a close game, which has happened so many times this season, IU pulled it out.
“Hit a step-back, and just let it go,” Franklin said postgame. “My teammates had ultimate confidence in me, coaches had confidence in me to get the ball in that moment, and it just paid off.”
While only one shot could be the game-winner, it was truly a team effort that provided the Hoosiers’ second win of the season over Iowa (13-6, 7-5).
Before that Franklin 3, there was a 3-pointer from Rob Phinisee that tied it up at 61-all. After a Luka Garza free throw gave the Hawkeyes the slightest edge, Race Thompson hit a jumper to put IU back on top, and Trayce Jackson-Davis sank two free throws to push the lead to three.
Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon hit a 3-pointer to tie it back up, but Franklin had an important answer. So, so important, given a loss would have been the Hoosiers’ third loss in a row, and a fourth defeat in their last five games.
Not to mention, the Hoosiers have lost a multitude of close games this season. But not this one.
“I’m thrilled for our team,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “In this league, the emotional rollercoaster that you can get on, it can really take its toll on you mentally. But I give our guys credit, like I told them, of preparing after the Rutgers game, going into Illinois, very, very good attention to detail. I think our guys are really together, and we’re getting better.
“To find a way, hopefully gives us a shot in the arm and some of that confidence that we need.”
That Illinois loss was another tough one, in overtime, just this past Tuesday. But the Hoosiers didn’t lose their edge, especially on the defensive end. IU has now held Iowa to its two lowest point totals of the season, following the Hawkeyes’ 69-point effort in January.
It took some time for the Hoosiers to fully click into gear, though. Early on, it was Iowa in command, jumping out to a 17-4 lead. IU hit just one of its first 12 shots, including multiple missed layups. Race Thompson, who connected on IU’s lone shot during that stretch, converted a three-point play to cut the lead to 10.
Thompson was a tone-setter for much of the day, not only because of his 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting, but his defensive intensity made life more difficult on Luka Garza. Iowa’s star big man had 18 points, but it was on 6-of-14 shooting.
“He does everything for us,” Miller said. The fact he’s playing well right now, to me, gives us great confidence. He’s turned into a real leader. … To me, if he’s not the most improved player in our league this year, he’s right there. He’s one of a few guys.”
Thompson’s steadiness kept the door open for IU to creep back in. Or maybe, more accurately, for Iowa to fall apart.
The Hawkeyes missed 14 of their last 16 shots going into the locker room, as Iowa coach Fran McCaffery started shouting obscenities on the sideline at an unequaled rate.
It took a second for IU to take advantage of the drought. But a make from Thompson with 4:31 left in the half sparked a 6-of-7 splurge by the Hoosiers, including four 3-pointers. Al Durham hit the first, falling to the floor on a foul. He missed the free throw on a potential four-point play — IU was just 7-of-13 from the free throw line in the half — but it didn’t kill IU’s momentum. Forty seconds later, freshman Anthony Leal buried a 3-pointer in the corner, standing just inches from players on Iowa’s bench.
Then another freshman guard, Khristian Lander, fully ignited the Hoosiers. He intercepted an inbounds pass, starting a run-out that ended with a Trayce Jackson-Davis slam. The very next time the Hoosiers got the ball, it went to Lander, who hit a 3-pointer from the wing to cut it to 31-30, Iowa, with just over a minute left.
Leal hit another 3 with just 36 seconds left, holding up three fingers as he raced back to the defensive end. IU forced one last stop, and the Hoosiers rushed into halftime, energized, somehow ahead.
“If you look at Khristian Lander right now, he’s saving us in a couple of games this week,” Miller said. “Especially (today), he made some plays for us. A month ago, he was really struggling.
“Staying with it, you see those rewards that you want to have happen for them so much.”
A shooting percentage that hovered below 20 percent for much of the first half ended up at 32.4 percent for IU. Iowa’s drought sent it into the locker room as makers of 37 percent, though the Hawkeyes were 6-of-11 from deep.
The second half followed a similar pattern. Following an opening bucket from Jackson-Davis, a recharged Iowa squad went on a 14-0 run to reclaim a 45-35 lead with 14:30 remaining.
But again, the Hoosiers ate into the lead. It was yet another freshman, Trey Galloway, who sank a 3-pointer to cap a 9-0 run. Iowa would respond, pushing a one-point lead back to six, but IU kept coming.
Rob Phinisee provided a sequence where he tied up Wieskamp on a drive, forcing a jump-ball turnover. On the other end, Jackson-Davis converted a three-point play. Phinisee then pushed it in transition to Franklin, who scored on a layup, giving the Hoosiers a 55-53 lead. Iowa regained the lead, but Phinisee tied it up at 61-all by burying a 3 with 1:39 left.
Both Phinisee and Durham were 1-of-8 from the floor, along with Franklin’s 2-of-10. But in the grand scheme, it didn’t matter.
“Rob hit a huge shot. We were in a little trouble there and he rose up and hit a big 3 for us off the bounce,” Miller said. “Rob stuck with it. Didn’t have his best outing, didn’t have his best week, but I thought he had a good finish to the game.
“Just in general, us being able to absorb them not playing particularly well and winning the game is a huge step for us.”
And even bigger step came with Franklin’s game-winner. A player who had struggled much of the night didn’t let it bother him. A player who isn’t 100 percent because of that ankle just continues to play on for his team.
“Rob’s shot, biggest one of the game. Armaan’s shot, obviously, ended it,” Miller said. “I also think Trayce, he wasn’t having a great night at the line, he banged two free throws for us, as well.
“We made some winning plays, which was good to see, because on Tuesday, it was the opposite. We didn’t make enough winning plays.”