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Three Things: Indiana 79, Northwestern 76

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The 2020-21 Indiana Hoosiers: The Big Ten’s leading “A win is a win” team

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Intent to once again test the theory that a win is a win, Indiana played down to a bad Northwestern team and needed two extra periods to escape Evanston with a 79-76 win on Wednesday evening.

Count it. Put it in the win column. And move the hell on.

Here are Three Things:

Al Durham and Armaan Franklin saved the day

The 23-20 halftime score felt like a threat. Keep playing like that, Hoosiers, and you’ll be heading back to Bloomington positioned appropriately on the wrong side of the bubble. Luckily for IU’s cause, Durham and Franklin tossed their teammates a life preserver in the second half.

Start with Durham, who did the things you’d hope a four-year guard would do in the moments that mattered most. With Indiana facing a seven-point deficit in the final two minutes of regulation, Durham took it upon himself to score each of the seven points IU needed to force overtime. Then, in the extra period, he drained the foot-on-the-line jumper with one second remaining that willed the Hoosiers to the second overtime. These were clutch shots made by a player whose offensive game can tend to feel forced and flat — shots that saved Indiana from further embarrassing itself on a night when the warts of Archieball were on full display. Durham was also clutch at the line, where he finished 11-for-12. More on that in a moment.

Franklin, too, was every bit the guard the Hoosiers needed in the second half. He finished with 23 points, hitting four 3s and finishing as a team-best plus-nine for the night. Defensively, he also brought a positive presence, recording four steals — three of which came in the final 11 minutes. Those final three swipes led directly to points; precious, precious points on a night IU needed every one it could get.

Another putrid first-period performance

There have been more concerning trends than positive ones to emerge during the first three and a half years of the Archie Miller era, slow starts chiefly among them. Though the uninspired opening stretches were perhaps most glaring during the 2018-19 campaign, they’ve continued to pop up throughout this season, too. Add Wednesday to the list.

IU scored only 20 points in the first 20 minutes of this game. 20 points! Somehow it wasn’t even the lowest first-half scoring output of the season. That distinction belongs to the Texas game, when IU managed merely 19 points in a what-the-hell-was-that opening frame in Asheville. It may not have been the worst one, but Wednesday was another bad start — the fourth time this season that IU has been held under 25 points during the opening period.

The Hoosiers started 0-for-9 from the field, 0-for-7 from the line and ended the frame wheezily producing just .625 points per possession. Bad, bad, bad! Really, though, this game was so bad that IU outscored Northwestern 13-2 over the final 7:40 of the first half and still had only 20 points at the break — and a three-point deficit. God, please don’t let these teams play again. Like, ever.

As poorly as IU started from the line, it finished down the stretch

By the intermission, Indiana had made only two of its eight free throw attempts, which, for anyone who has watched any bit of this season (or the last one, or the one before that, or the entire Miller era at Dayton), was not surprising. What was surprising was the way IU reversed its course late in the contest.

Over the final 15:20 of action, Indiana went 22-for-25 at the line. That includes a 7-for-9 mark in the final 5:20 of regulation, a 7-for-8 showing in the first overtime, and a borderline shocking 8-for-8 effort in the second.

As mentioned before, give credit to Durham, who continues to improve his work at the line during the second half of the Big Ten season. With Wednesday’s performance, Durham has now shot 89% at the line since Jan. 21, a five-game span.