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Monday, June 17
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Anthony Leal hits ‘biggest shot of his college career’ to propel Indiana basketball past Penn State

Iu vs Penn State -Big10-Finasl -14.jpg

Hardly any attention was paid to Anthony Leal. Time ticked down, one second after the next, as Leal stood planted in the corner just a few feet in front of Indiana men’s basketball’s bench. 

With roughly nine seconds left in the Hoosiers’ 61-59 win over Penn State on Thursday night in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament in Minneapolis, sophomore forward Malik Reneau handled the ball at the top of the key and charged into the heart of the Nittany Lions’ defense. 

Still, the senior guard stood relatively ignored. Then, just as Reneau started to loft his running shot, Leal crept behind Penn State senior guard Ace Baldwin Jr., who was entirely oblivious to what would ensue. Reneau pushed his attempt just far, and Leal was in prime position to leap for the rebound and put back the game-winning layup. 

“I knew that if he did happen to miss a shot, to go in there and try to make something happen is a possibility,” Leal said postgame. “I'm blessed I was able to do that.” 

After the shot fell, Leal’s eyes frantically darted back and forth as he searched for his defensive assignment. He closed off the inbound pass to Baldwin, and Penn State missed a last-gasp 3-point chance as time expired. 

Immediately after the ball clanked off the rim and took a thud on the court, Indiana’s bench catapulted up and pointed at Leal before swarming him near halfcourt. Thursday night’s game winner for Leal carried considerable implications — propelling Indiana to the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals — but it wasn’t novel for the Bloomington native. 

A little over a month ago, Indiana erased an 18-point second half deficit to defeat Ohio State 76-73 on the road. With 22 seconds left in that contest, it was Leal, nestled by himself in the corner, who drained a triple to give the Hoosiers the bucket they needed to seal the comeback thriller. 

The Hoosiers have shown a penchant for winning close games this year, and Leal said that reflects the team’s chemistry. 

“I think it's kind of a culmination of just the whole season, becoming more familiar with each other as players and learning how to win together,” Leal said. “We're confident in each other to make plays and trust in each other to continue to execute the game plan.” 

Against Penn State, Leal’s contributions were direly needed. With senior Trey Galloway sidelined with a lower body injury that kept him out of most of Indiana’s win over Michigan State on March 10, Leal was the only guard head coach Mike Woodson turned to behind sixth-year senior Xavier Johnson and freshman Gabe Cupps. 

Leal finished the game with 8 points and four rebounds in 24 minutes, including his game-clinching layup and a trio of free throws coming with roughly 10 minutes left. His scoring output was the most he’s generated since Jan. 30 against Iowa, and he hadn’t cracked more than 5 points since the Ohio State game. 

The 2020 Indiana Mr. Basketball and highly touted recruit had mostly fallen out of the Hoosiers’ rotation for the past two seasons, but he’s become a regular as this season has worn on. Since the New Year, Leal has logged double-digit minutes in all but one game.   

It’s a testament to his perseverance and loyalty to the program he grew up just a few miles away from. 

“He has hung in there with me because he hadn't played a whole lot, but in practice he comes to work every day, and he knows everything that we're doing on both sides of the ball,” Woodson said. “So from a coaching standpoint, we feel comfortable knowing, if we throw him in there, he's not going to embarrass us, himself or our team.” 

After the Hoosiers’ senior day victory over the Spartans, Leal announced his decision to return for a fifth season. He offered significant confidence in Woodson and a desire to play for the only university he could dream of playing for. 

Now, while it took nearly full four years to come to fruition, Leal is finally reaping the rewards of his endless labor. Woodson has taken note of that and reciprocated a fierce level of confidence. 

After the Ohio State win, Woodson said Leal closing out tight games indicates trust. Thursday night, in the highest stakes game of Indiana’s season thus far, that trust remained. 

“He's come in and given us a helluva lift, and tonight he hits the biggest shot of his college career,” Woodson said. “So that's beautiful for him in terms of the hard work that he's put in. I couldn't be more proud of him.” 

Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Press (@MattPress23) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season. 

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