Connect with us


‘A spark off the bench’: Anthony Leal leads momentum-swinging run as Indiana basketball finds production from every player on the roster



Indiana basketball
Anthony Leal, Payton Sparks, Kaleb Banks -- and others. It was a total team effort as Indiana basketball found a second-half spark in win. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Indiana basketball wrapped up its non-conference play with a 100-87 win over Kennesaw State on Friday night, but the double-digit win doesn’t tell the story of how the game went — and how close it was.

Despite leading for 37:14 and holding numerous double-digit leads, it wasn’t until the 12:49 mark of the second half where Indiana really took control.

Indiana watched a 13-point first-half lead turn into a four-point deficit thanks to a 44-29 run over a 15-minute segment. That’s when Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson turned to some key members of the bench to provide a spark.

That group was led by senior guard Anthony Leal — someone who has played in just four games this season.

“He’s had a really great week of practice,” Woodson said postgame. “After the break, he came back, and I thought his two days of practice, he deserved to play more. And I just decided to play him. And he gave us a hell of a spark when he came in. I mean, just from a defensive standpoint. He did a lot of things that we didn’t do early in that spot.”

Provide a spark is exactly what Leal did. He entered and immediately Indiana went on a run. It was a quick 10-0 run for Indiana that ballooned into a 21-3 run, putting all of the control in the hands of the Hoosiers.

Leal had a +/- of +14 in the first five minutes he was on the floor. He ended +17 in 13 minutes. He had just two points but provided the leadership, high IQ and defensive awareness needed to get Indiana back in a flow.

“He definitely had a spark off the bench,” IU forward Malik Reneau said postgame. “He came in with so much energy, it just rejuvenated us, I’ll say, and got us back to what we needed to do on the court, and we got stops.”

“He’s a senior. He’s ready. I’ve seen it in practice. He hasn’t done anything in terms of me not wanting him to play,” Woodson added. “He’s been really good in practice. And he deserves to probably play a little bit more because he is playing well.

While Leal was the catalyst, it was a total team effort that got Indiana through Friday’s game.

Despite missing its top scorer and rebounder in Kel’el Ware, Indiana saw numerous players step up. Payton Sparks stepped into the starting lineup and finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in just 14 minutes. It was his first career start in an Indiana uniform and far and away his best game.

“He was great tonight,” Indiana sophomore wing Kaleb Banks said. “I’m very proud of him. He had a lot of game-changing plays, a nice put-back dunk. That was crazy for us. Some nice blocks. Really gave us some momentum. And the whole bench played well tonight, and he stepped up big for us tonight.”

“I’m sure it’s special for him. This is his first big-time start. And as a coach, I’m anxious to see if he’s ready to play because he hadn’t played big minutes,” Woodson said of Sparks. “And he only played 14 minutes tonight, but I thought they were a positive 14 minutes to help us win a basketball game.

“He was tremendous tonight. I mean, his numbers, look at 10 and 8, four blocks, two assists in 14 minutes. He was pretty special.”

In total, Indiana saw six players in double-figures, including Malik Reneau who turned in his second-straight career-high. He had 34 points on 13-of-19 from the floor, 11 rebounds and four assists.

 The last time IU had at least six players score in double figures was against Alcorn State on Nov. 30, 2015.

Indiana had 26 points from its bench. Every player who saw action, scored.

Indiana basketball finished shooting 61 percent from the floor, went 7-of-15 on 3s and out rebounded Kennesaw State 42-28.  While it wasn’t a clean game by any means — also with 18 turnovers — it was another gritty win that could’ve gone the other way.

There’s now some confidence and trust in the rest of the group to step up when needed. And, yes — they’ll likely be needed multiple times throughout Big Ten play.

“So, again, this is a team game,” Woodson said. “And when guys are called upon, I expect them to come in and play.”

SEE ALSO: Watch extended game highlights of Indiana basketball 100-87 win over Kennesaw State

Make sure to follow Hoosier Illustrated, part of the Full Ride Network, on Twitter @Indiana_FRN, Facebook and YouTube to stay up to date on all of the news, updates and coverage of Indiana University athletics. You can also listen to the Talking’ Bout the Hoosiers podcast on Spotify.

Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.