Distractions Are Plentiful For IU Players

With all of the rumors flying around the IU basketball program these days, times have become difficult for the Hoosier players.

Bloomington, Ind. – As if the team's recent struggles weren't enough to worry about, the Indiana Hoosiers have been forced to deal with a slew of rumors and distractions before and after its 70-67 loss to Iowa – first and foremost, was the absence of their head coach.

Mike Davis missed Saturday's game with a flu-like illness, as Assistant head coach Donnie Marsh ran the team in his place.

"(Coach Davis) and I probably talked about five times this morning," said Marsh. "He said he couldn't make the pregame meal but he was going to try to ride it out. We talked right before the guys came back in from pregame shoot around about 40 minutes before tipoff and I asked him how he was feeling. He said he didn't think he was going to be able to make it. He told me I know what we want to do and run with it."

The late announcement from Davis was not a surprise to Marsh, but it caught the Indiana players off guard, as they had to play without their leader on the bench.

"It was difficult for our guys," said Marsh. "Learning at the late point that we did about coach (Davis) being unable to join us."

Davis missed his first Indiana game since Dec. 31, 2002, when he was suspended for a road contest with Ball State. Davis had to serve the suspension for his on-court outburst with official Bert Smith in the closing minute of IU's loss to Kentucky in Louisville. With Davis not on the bench the players had to adjust to a new coaching style.

"It was definitely different," said Marshall Strickland. "The voice was different on the sideline. You're always used to hearing your coach's voice on the sideline. I think Coach Marsh and Coach (Kerry) Rupp did a great job, but it was kind of like practice not hearing the head guy out there calling directions."

Even without Davis on the sideline Strickland kept the Hoosiers fighting. He scored 18 points including 8-of-8 from the free throw line.

"We were still going to go out and try to execute our game plan and play hard," said Strickland. "We got off to a slow start, but I think we played hard on defense and we tried to take the fight to them. We came up short today."

Iowa head coach Steve Alford won his seventh game coaching against his alma mater. It was his first win against the Hoosiers without Davis on the opposing sideline.

"You're getting late in the year, players get worn down and coaches get worn down," said Alford. "I just hope he's okay. I hope he's feeling well and can get back to his team and back on the sidelines as soon as possible."

The appearance of Marsh on the sidelines and not Davis fueled the rumors about the security of Davis' job, which is something the older Hoosiers are all too familiar with.

"It's nothing new for me," said Strickland. "I've been through it worse. I think sophomore year was probably the lowest. I'm just trying to lead the young guys. I think it takes a toll on them the most.

"It's not that tough on me. I've been through it. I feel like I'm wearing armor. It just doesn't faze me anymore."

Strickland may no longer be fazed by the rumors after hearing them for almost his entire career.

"It's nothing new, there's always a rumor," said Strickland. "It's always something that somebody else is saying. We just try to keep a tight circle. This team is still together and we're going to fight until the end.

"We're just trying to stay focused on the games we have left to play. We just want to win."

The distractions have taken a personal toll on some of the younger Hoosiers who were certainly drawn to the IU program because of Davis. After developing such a strong bond with their leader, the constant speculation about Davis' job seems to be taking a toll not only on his health but on the team's morale.

"It's hard on our kids, and I'll say that straight up," said Marsh. "That's a person that they care a great deal about. It's a person that they've come here to support. All you try to do as a player is give the best effort you can possibly give and sometimes when your attention is divided it can detract a little bit from your game.

"I give our kids a great deal of credit. It's a difficult environment for them to be playing in. They find a way when we get back in that locker room to pull together."

With six conference games to go and the distractions growing by the day, the Hoosiers will have to pull together if there is any chance of staying near the top of the conference and keep hopes alive of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.

"We missed Coach Davis today," said Errek Suhr. "We're just waiting for him to come back and when he does we're just going to get ready for our next game.

"It's tough losing games and of course we're going to pull together, we're a team. If you don't pull together you're just going to be lost."

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