Hoosiers survive scare in home-opener

After building a 20-point lead early in the second half, Indiana needed a Lance Stemler three-pointer to save the day. The junior college transfer made good with just 33 seconds remaining to give the Hoosiers the lift they needed in a fiercely contested 73-66 victory.

Consider it a fact. The smaller in-state schools are no longer intimidated by the big, bad Indiana Hoosiers. It used to be that tradition alone was good for a 20-point victory against In-State U on hallowed Branch McCracken Court. Those days are long gone.

Over their previous five match-ups Indiana has dropped three games to Indiana State, including a 1999 loss in Assembly Hall. Last year the Sycamores dropped the 16th-ranked Hoosiers in Terre Haute by a score of 72-67. It's one thing to beat Indiana in your own, adrenaline-filled gym, but Friday night the clearly overmatched Sycamores nearly did it again on the Hoosiers home turf. Despite a boisterous crowd that urged the Hoosiers on at every moment, the Sycamores found themselves down just two with less than a minute remaining after a Gabe Moore steal and lay-up.

"We really fought back and were within a possession of tying the game," said Sycamore Coach Royce Waltman. "Then the Stemler kid got open and made the shot."

If not for a Lance Stemler three-pointer with 33 seconds remaining that snatched a victory from the fire, the Hoosiers could have lost their second in-state match-up of the week. Luckily for IU, Stemler's deep shot found nothing but net and D.J. White then registered his fifth block of the evening on the other end to secure a 73-66 victory. Stemler led the Hoosiers with a game-high 18 points on 5-9 three-point shooting.

"I'm pleased with the way we came back and the guts some of the younger kids showed," said Waltman.

Just three days after blowing a 12-point second half lead in a loss to Butler, the Hoosiers nearly paid the price for turning off the jets too early again on Friday night. After building a 20-point lead early in the second half against a scrappy, but overmatched Indiana State squad, the Hoosiers promptly squandered it in seven minutes of listless basketball that saw the Sycamores go on a 23-5 run. By the time the Indiana State offensive blitz was over the IU lead was cut to just 56-54 with just over six minutes remaining.

"I knew we were capable of coming back," said Sycamore forward Jay Tunnell, who more than held his own against the heralded White with 16 points and several clutch baskets down the stretch.

"I remember the under 16 timeout when we were down by 15 saying ‘OK, five points every five minutes fellas'. We have done this before last year when we were done by 11 and came all the way back so I didn't write the game off at all and I didn't think anybody in the huddle thought the game was over by any stretch of the imagination. We just fought, and fought, and fought and had a chance to win the game."

The Hoosiers, on the other hand, noticeably let their guard down after building such a comfortable lead. Coach Kelvin Sampson continued to shuffle his line-up in search of a spark, but the Hoosiers once tenacious defense had lost its bite. Tunnell scored eight points in one three minute stretch of the second half and surprise reserve Russell Trudeau added eight of his own in the waning minutes as the Sycamore forwards repeatedly attacked the basket.

"I made an error in preparation," said Waltman. "We knew their pressure was what we needed to handle… we tried to handle it by lifting our offense up and giving us room to drive and what we did was just fiddle with it around the perimeter and take bad shots (in the first half). I think we overestimated their individual defensive skills and in the second half we just said let's just pound it right inside and they really couldn't guard us."

Suddenly after a barrage of easy inside buckets by the Sycamores, the Hoosiers found themselves clinging to a 68-64 lead with just over a minute left. The Hoosier fans, many of whom left when IU led comfortably earlier in the game, were in shock. When Moore picked guard's Earl Calloway's pocket at midcourt for an easy lay-up to cut the lead to 68-66 with just 49 seconds left the Hall really went quiet. IU was forced to call a timeout and think it over.

Out of the timeout Indiana immediately went inside to White, who then kicked out to A.J. Ratliff, who found a wide open Stemler spotted up for a triple. His basket gave the Hoosiers all the breathing room they would need to secure the victory.

"I saw A.J. on the wing trying to get the ball into D.J., which is what we were trying to do," said Stemler. "My guy was almost on the other side of the lane right behind D.J. so I just tried to slide down and get to where A.J. could see me for the skip (pass)."

After Stemler's big bucket, White got a clean block on Trudeau that was called a jump ball and gave possession to the Hoosiers. It was White's fifth block of the night, but the sophomore struggled from the field with just 4-12 shooting. Rod Wilmont then made two free throws to give the game its final margin at 71-66. It was a close shave for the Hoosiers, who narrowly secured their 23rd consecutive home opening win.

"I'm ecstatic we won," said Sampson. "I've seen teams lose these games, early in the season, this kind of game, I've seen a bunch of teams lose them. So I have been coaching long enough to know that I appreciate this win. I'm also smart enough to know that there are a lot of things we have to get better at."

While Sampson said he was very pleased with the Hoosiers first 25 minutes of basketball on Friday, he said he's not sure they could have played any worse in the last 13 minutes. Watching his team blow another sizable lead was clearly concerning to the first-year Hoosier coach and it's something his team heard about after the game.

"We started letting them get to the rim and the turnovers," said Stemler of the second half meltdown. "We've just got to learn how to step on someone's throat when we've got them down."

Sampson said it just came down to a loss of concentration. He was disappointed to see his team lose their focus so easily, but he said there's plenty of good to take away from the game as well.

"I thought our basketball intelligence in the first half was really good," said Sampson. "I thought for 20 minutes defensively our rotations, pressure without fouling (was good).

"I'm not going to harp on losing the 20 minute lead, though. I want them to extend what they did good for 40 minutes and not think about what they didn't do. This team is one of those teams that really needs a lot of positive reinforcement."

Positives on the night included a very balanced scoring attack. The Hoosiers placed five players in double-figures (Stemler 18, Calloway 13, White 12, Ratliff 11, and Joey Shaw 11) and had nine players receive ten minutes of playing time or more. The Hoosiers also sent the Sycamores to the free throw line just 13 times after seeing a long free throw parade from opponents in their pre-season NIT games.

"You take a lot of good from this game and then you realize we've got to learn to put 40 minutes together," Sampson said. "It's not a matter of tricking them or making a million adjustments. It's about keeping concentration."

The Hoosiers got yet another lesson on that subject in a fiercely contested game Friday night.

Peegs.com Top Stories