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Doing whatever it takes — Anthony Leal’s heroics keeps season alive for Indiana basketball: ‘We call that a pro. A true pro’



Indiana basketball
Anthony Leal's 'true pro' mentality once again lifted Indiana basketball to a win on a last-second shot in the Big Ten Tournament. (Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports)

Indiana basketball made just eight field goals in the second half but none were more important than Anthony Leal’s lay-in with five seconds left to lift IU to a 61-59 win over Penn State in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Indiana, who shot just 32 percent in the second half, took a timeout with 24.3 seconds left on the game clock and 21 seconds on the shot clock. It was a tie game.

As the clock ticked down, the original play was blown up by Penn State causing Xavier Johnson to give up the ball to Malik Reneau at the top of the key. As he took two dribbles to the free throw line and tossed up an off-balance jumper, it was Leal who slid in from the wing in position to make a game-winning play. Reneau’s shot hung on the rim just long enough for Leal to get full position on the block, secure the rebound and lay it back in with five seconds left.

Penn State had one final look at it but Puff Johnson’s three from the left wing came up just short as the buzzer sounded.

“I know with the shot clock running down and everything that we’re going to get a chance to get a shot, but the odds of that shot going in aren’t always high,” Leal said about the final play. “The odds of losing on a tip-in or a rebound is something we talk about a lot on defense. If there’s a buzzer beater, we’ve got to be boxing out.

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

Leal finished with eight points on 2-of-4 from the field and four rebounds in 24 minutes of action. While his play was significant, his production was expected from Indiana basketball head coach Mike Woodson who was going to lean on Leal for leadership even more without fellow senior guard Trey Galloway (knee).

“I expect X (Xavier Johnson) and Anthony to lead. They’re seniors,” Woodsons said following the win. “That’s what seniors should do after going through a program or playing college basketball for a number of years.”

But, let’s say it like it is — before the last month or so, Leal was not in the rotation and had not been a significant part of the rotation for most of his Indiana basketball career.

Coming into this season, Leal had career averages of just 1.4 points per game in 8.9 minutes per game. He hadn’t played more than 20 games in a season. This year was more of the same to start, playing in just four non conference games. He also saw double-figure minutes in just one game before January.

Since the calendar turned to 2024, however, Leal has been a regular in the rotation and in closing out games. He has played in 15 games and had 10+ minutes in 14 games, averaging 17 minutes a game.

Whether it was his 13 points against Iowa to help secure a win or six points and game-winning three at Ohio State just a few games later, Leal has always stayed ready — both mentally and physically.

“Coming from the NBA, in the 34 years I spent there, we call that a pro, a true pro,” Woodson said of Leal’s readiness. “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.

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

With Indiana needing a play on Thursday, it was no different.

“I haven’t played as much as I’ve wanted in my career, but the times where I’m not playing, I’m still learning and studying the game and figuring out ways to win if I do get in,” Leal said postgame on the Big Ten Network. “Now that I’m starting to get my chance, and it’s next guy up with Trey (Galloway) being out tonight, I just try to do what I’ve always done and that’s just help win.”

Win they did and now Indiana rides a five-game winning streak into a Friday night matchup against Nebraska.

“We’ve got a mindset of revenge for these next few games,” Leal added postgame to BTN. ” … We’re not done yet.”

SEE ALSO: ‘It’s winning time, it’s time to win this game’: Indiana basketball’s Big Ten opening win was déjà vu from last month — just find a way.

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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.