EVANSTON, Ind. – For most of regulation during Wednesday night's game at Northwestern, Indiana looked like it had absolutely no chance to win this important Big Ten game. They simply could not get out of their own way, and that's being polite.
But they somehow found a way to erase a seven-point deficit in the final two minutes of the second half, then made 15-of-16 free throws over two overtime periods to beat the Wildcats 79-76.
"This is a win that probably puts a smile on my face more than any other because of what we had to go through in order to get it," Miller said. "To put it into the first overtime was incredible, to put it into the second was even more. Momentum was on our side in both overtimes.
"It's a game that you look back on and say 'I don't know how we found a way to win.' ''
It's a tough question to answer, to be sure. Northwestern blew their doors off early, dashing out to a 21-7 lead. Indiana couldn't do anything right. They missed layups, turned the ball over, lost Northwestern shooters and even missed their first six free throws. Trayce Jackson-Davis, their best player, had only two points in the first half.
They closed the gap though, and actually went ahead 24-23 early in the second half, but then quickly lost the lead and never got it back in regulation. They were behind 54-47 with 2:14 to go, but they forced Northwestern into two turnovers and two missed shots from there. Durham's jumper with 24 seconds to go tied it, and sent the game to overtime.
Indiana never had a lead in the first overtime either, and trailed 66-60 with 1:05 to go, but Franklin made four straight free throws and Durham hit a jumper with a toe on the line to tie the game at 66 with 1.6 seconds to go.
"I knew he was going to throw it back to me. I tried to step back for a three, but I didn't make it all the way back,'' Durham said. "But I made the shot. That's what mattered. It is what it is.''
Northwestern scored first in the second overtime too, but Indiana finally got a lead on two Rob Phinisee free throws with 1:56 to go. They were clutch, because Phinisee had missed all three free throws earlier in the game.
The biggest play came when it was 72-71 and Indiana had the ball. As the shot clock wound down, Jerome Hunter stepped back and hit a huge three-pointer. It was too much for Northwestern, which has now lost 10 straight games, to overcome.
Durham and Franklin helped close it out with one big play after another in the two overtimes. Durham finished with 24 points and made 11-of-12 free throws, and Franklin had 23 points with 7-of-8 freebies.
"The biggest thing about Al is that he made every pressure free throw,'' Miller said. "The big shot at the end of the game just goes to him based on who he is as a person and how he prepares.'
This was Indiana's fifth overtime game this season, the most in the nation, but it was dramatically different from the first four, where they went 1-3. This time, they got good looks on the offensive end and got some turnovers on the other end, especially in the second overtime.
"This win, we needed it, and I kept echoing that the whole game because we hadn't been able to put two together,'' Durham said. "I felt like we really locked in as the game went along. We needed every possession. We really needed to win this game.
Hunter had missed two games by Miller's choice, but he came ready to play on Wednesday. He finished with seven points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.
"He had a good attitude and was ready to play,'' Miller said.
Durham, a senior leader, had been all over Hunter the past week, telling him how much they were going to need him down the stretch. They needed him, it turned out, right away.
"He hit that big three and I tell him that all the time, that we needed him,'' Durham said. "That's Jerome right there. That's a difficult shot, but he's a great shooter and I wasn't surprised that it went in.''
This was only the third time in 12 games during the Archie Miller era that the Hoosiers had followed up a win over a ranked team with another with. They are now 11-8 overall and 6-6 in the Big Ten. They faced No. 4-ranked Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus.
After missing their first six free throws of the game, Indiana shot 84 percent from the free throw line the rest of the way and were 94 percent in the two overtimes, at 15-for-16.