You could hear them from the hallways under Assembly Hall after the game.
Kids and fans clad in cream and crimson calling for the hometown kid. The one who’d just dropped 13 points on Iowa with three 3-pointers and the game-sealing free throws in the closing seconds.
Minutes haven’t come easily for Anthony Leal, a former Indiana Mr. Basketball out of Bloomington South High School not far at all from Assembly Hall. But he’d be the last guy to tell you that.
“I think just really coming to work every day and understanding, like, me just putting this jersey on for practice, even, is more than a dream come true,” Leal said after the game. “It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was first touching a basketball.”
His share has dwindled throughout his four years in Bloomington with last year seeing some real lows and multiple stretches where he didn’t see any time at all. But he just keeps showing up, putting that work in and doing whatever the team needs from him.
Tonight, that was on the court.
“Where I come from in the NBA, you call that a true pro,” Head coach Mike 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.”
He was called upon early and responded with a three, first from the left wing with nine minutes to go in the first half. Then another just a minute later, all alone at the crest of the arc.
When Leal’s making shots, the crowd rises with him. He’s easy to root for, always having been an electric presence on the bench and the first guy to hype up teammates from the sideline.
After the second shot fell and Iowa called timeout, those same teammates surrounded him on the court as he took in the moment.
He regained the lead in the second half with a eurostep then hit his third 3 of the night two minutes later to take it back again. In crunch time, he made the final two attempts from the stripe to put a bow on the Hoosiers’ 74-68 win.
It wasn’t all the offense though. Seven of Indiana’s 42 rebounds came courtesy of Leal while his knowledge of the Hoosiers’ schemes on offense and defense kept them on their feet when Iowa pressed or went for a bucket.
Indiana doesn’t win tonight without Leal, who earned the game ball for his effort.