BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — There were moments this season where it looked like Indiana's five-star freshman wouldn't see much of the floor.
From Dec. 19 to Jan. 21, a nine-game span, Khristian Lander played no more than six minutes in each of those games.
But in the final game of that span, on Jan. 21 at Iowa, Lander had maybe his most impressive performance in just a four-minute stretch. He didn't score any points, he didn't grab any rebounds, he didn't dish out any assists, but Lander was sound defensively, he helped create a steal and he didn't force any bad shots.
It was a sign of maturity for the freshman point guard, who often times looked frantic and nervous early on in the season.
Following Iowa, Lander got a 12-minute run against Rutgers, where he again showed improvements on the defensive side of the ball. But this time, he found his shot in the rhythm of the offense. Lander went 2-for-2 from the 3-point line against the Scarlet Knights, and he finished with a plus/minus of plus-5.
All this led up to Tuesday night in Assembly Hall, when Indiana took on No. 12 Illinois at home. It was a game where Trayce Jackson-Davis and Kofi Cockburn essentially canceled one another out, which meant it was going to come down to guard play.
Al Durham scored a quick eight points but then went quiet, Armaan Franklin was only 65% healthy with a hurt ankle and Rob Phinisee got into early foul trouble.
So Archie Miller inserted Lander early. It was a shaky start for Lander right when he came in. He gave up a score on the defensive end, and he turned it over by throwing the ball to Race Thompson when he wasn't looking. Usually that type of sequence would summate to Lander being done for the day, but Miller stuck with him.
Lander played 11 minutes in the first half, and once he got settled in, he calmly ran the offense, distributing the ball out to open guys to set up easy baskets. Then with 45 seconds left in the first half, Illinois went under a ball screen, and Lander pulled up confidently and knocked in a three.
Indiana took a seven-point lead into halftime, and Lander was a plus-five in his 11 minutes.
With more foul trouble from Phinisee in the second half, Lander was awarded more minutes on the floor, and he kept making the most of it.
He continued to play sound basketball and run the offense like a true point guard. With Indiana up one with eight minutes to go, Lander found another in-rhythm three from the corner that he knocked down to put the Hoosiers up four.
It was all going as well as possible until about three minutes to go in the game. Indiana led by six, and on back-to-back possessions, Lander was a step late getting out to Illinois' Trent Frazier, who knocked in two threes to tie the game.
On the next possession, Lander was overaggressive trying to get out to Frazier, and he fouled him on a three-point attempt. That foul was Lander's fifth, and he exited the game on a sour note after an impressive 19 minutes of action — his most minutes played in a game this season.
Indiana went on to lose the game to Illinois 75-71 in overtime. Phinisee fouled out at the end of regulation, so Indiana was without both of its true point guards in the extra session.
On a night where guard play was important, Lander stepped up in the place of Phinisee, who had zeros all across the stat sheet.
There were without a doubt a number of freshman mistakes for Lander on Tuesday night, but there's something to be said about the maturity he has shown on both sides of the ball over the last three games.
With Indiana, now 9-8 overall and 4-6 in the Big Ten, looking for a spark in the second half of conference play, knowing Lander can handle big minutes in big games could be a huge positive for the Hoosiers moving forward.
"I think that speaks to the development, and I think that speaks to the improvement that we're getting right now," Miller said. "So we need to stay with that. As frustrating, as angry, whatever you want to say, we have to stay with what we're doing because we are getting better."
Indiana's next game will be on Sunday, Feb. 7, when the Hoosiers host No. 8 Iowa in Assembly Hall at noon ET.
- JEROME HUNTER UPDATE: Archie Miller provided an update on why Jerome Hunter was a coach's decision Tuesday night. CLICK HERE
- INDIANA FALLS TO ILLINOIS: Indiana suffered a tough loss in overtime to No. 12 Illinois. CLICK HERE
- LIVE BLOG: To catch up on what went down in Assembly Hall on Tuesday night, CLICK HERE