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Al Durham’s clutch shots save Indiana from costly loss at Northwestern

Indiana couldn’t afford to lose to Northwestern team that had lost nine in a row and Al Durham wasn’t going to let it happen.

The senior guard did everything in his power to extend the game and keep Indiana alive when down and in need of a basket.

When down 54-47 with 2:16 left in regulation, Durham accounted for five free throws and a clutch floater in the lane with 24 seconds left to tie it at 54 and force overtime.

In the first overtime he did it again. He nailed a long two-point jump shot to tie the game at 66-66 with one second left, erasing a six-point deficit and pushing the game to a second overtime.

Without Durham’s clutch shots and career-high 24 points, Indiana never materializes as a team and steals an important 79-76 win in Evanston on Wednesday night.

“We needed it more, we needed this win very much,” Durham said. “I felt like this win was very important because we haven’t been able to put two together.”

Building momentum has been difficult for the Hoosiers, as this is only Indiana’s second time this season putting together consecutive Big Ten wins. The win revives the Hoosiers, giving them an even 6-6 Big Ten record and an 11-8 overall mark.

Indiana’s self-inflicted struggles nearly took away its newfound momentum.

As a whole, Indiana’s defensive effort was really strong, keeping Northwestern to 54 points in regulation. On the flip side, Indiana’s lackluster offensive performance found a multitude of ways to keep IU out of it.

All the trouble stemmed from Northwestern’s defense making Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson non-factors. Jackson-Davis was held to 10 points, only about half of his season average, and Thompson had seven points while only making two field goals.

“Really played poorly offensively, shooting the ball,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “Northwestern did a lot of packing of the paint and just made it hard on us.”

With Indiana’s ability to play through the post eradicated, the Hoosiers had to experiment on offense and it about lost them the game.

With the paint taken away, Indiana did not shoot the ball well from the field, only converting on 35.5% of its looks. Armaan Franklin defied that metric, though. He hit a number of big shots and tied his career-high of 23 points while going 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the process.

EVANSTON, IL. – Armaan Franklin drives into the Northwestern defense at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Feb. 10, 2021 (Missy Minear/Indiana Hoosiers)

Aside from Franklin, Durham, and the two big men, the rest of Indiana’s roster struggled mightily to shoot. The other six Hoosiers who saw the floor combined for 15 points on 4-for-18 shooting.

Beyond just not shooting well, there was a lack of ball security and Northwestern lived off of it. Indiana committed 13 turnovers which ended up becoming 19 Wildcat points, a fourth of Northwestern’s total scoring.

Ultimately, the free-throw line nearly did Indiana in early, but also saved the team late. Indiana started the game 5-for-12 on free throws, allowing Northwestern to take command of the game, and even a 21-7 lead 13 minutes into the first half.

After that, though, Indiana tightened up and went 22-for-26 from the line from the 11:17 mark of the second half through the remainder of the game. Durham and Franklin converted on 16 of those 22 shots, too.

The team’s turnaround at the free-throw line allowed the Hoosiers to overcome their offensive mishaps and allow Durham chances to extend the game when he did.

“Between the free-throw shooting late and stepping up between a couple big baskets… we just found a way,” Miller said. “Really on a day that you probably shouldn’t have won.”

As Miller indicated, for a long time it did look like Indiana was going to blow another close winnable game. By coming out on top, though, it does wonders for the Hoosiers by building a winning streak and avoiding a costly loss.

It was Indiana’s first victory at Northwestern since 2014 and another key victory in Indiana’s hunt to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016.

“Of all the games this season, this one right here puts on a smile on my face more than any of them just because of what we had to go through to figure out how to do it,” Miller said.

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