Defense Carries The Day In Win Over Illini

Indiana got 17 points from Rod Wilmont, 15 from Armon Bassett and 13 from D.J. White, but it was its defensive effort in the final minutes that enabled the Hoosiers to escape with a 65-61 win over Illinois...

Bloomington, Ind. – D.J. White might have envisioned coming up with a big play to lift Indiana to a much-needed win over Illinois.

Just not in this fashion.

With Indiana clinging to a two-point lead in the game's final seconds, White drew a five-second closing guarded turnover on Shaun Pruitt to avoid a potential game-tying or game-winning shot. Earl Calloway then hit two free throws to extend IU's lead to four, and No. 24 Indiana escaped with a 65-61 win over Illinois in front of 17,316 at Assembly Hall.

"I just wanted to pressure (Pruitt)," said White, who also had 13 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. "One thing coach talks about is when someone picks (the ball) up, I knew the other four would deny their man. I had to deny his vision so he couldn't get a pass off."

The win was Indiana's 13th straight at home this season, but it came in a different fashion than most. After beating its first five Big Ten foes by an average of 15 points, Indiana had to overcome a three-point deficit the final two minutes to avenge its 51-43 loss in Champaign two and a half weeks ago.

With Illinois leading 61-58, White knocked down a pair of free throws at the 1:50 mark to cut the lead to one. After a Chester Frazier turnover, Rod Wilmont had a chance to put Indiana in the lead, but missed on a fastbreak lay-up attempt with 1:33 remaining.

But Illinois couldn't extend the lead. Rich McBride – who scored all 13 of his points in the first half – missed a 3-pointer, giving IU a second shot to take the lead.

This time IU seized that opportunity.

With game clock winding down under a minute, Armon Bassett looked to feed White in the post. But when Pruitt denied the entry feed the Hoosier freshman drove to the basket for a lay-up and was fouled by Calvin Brock. Bassett – who finished with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists - missed the free throw, but his bucket with :44.5 left put the Hoosiers on top for good.

McBride would miss another 3-pointer with 23 seconds remaining, and after A.J. Ratliff extended the lead to two by making one of two free throws, White and the IU defense came up wit the critical play to get the much-needed stop.

"I was happy the way we won the game," IU Coach Kelvin Sampson said. "We had some this year that weren't very close. This time of year, you find out a lot about your team, and I found out a lot about our team today."

What Sampson found out was that not only could his team come up with critical plays in the closing minutes, but they could also do an about face with its defensive play in the second half. After allowing Illinois to shoot 56.5 percent in the opening half which landed IU in a 33-31 halftime hole, Indiana limited the Illini to 34.8 percent shooting in the second half. Illinois didn't score in the game's final 3:36, and its last field goal came at the 5:22 mark.

"It was not a game you're going to win with offense," Sampson said. "That's the way some of the games on the schedule are going to be, you have to win at the defensive end."

The Hoosiers did a particularly good job on McBride, who hit 5-of-9 shots in the first half, including three 3-pointers. But he was scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting in the second half, including the two missed 3-pointers in the final 1:06.

"You can't just be on (McBride), you have to be in him," Sampson said. "The two areas I worry about him is transition and off offensive rebounds, and I thought our kids did a great job of defending in the second half."

It was a big win for Indiana, which improved to 17-6 overall solidified its hold on third place in the Big Ten at 7-3. It was an equally disappointing loss for Illinois (18-9/6-6) and its coach Bruce Weber, who entered the game having won four of their last five. After the game it was obvious Weber is still fuming over the fact Sampson managed to lure coveted Indianapolis point guard Eric Gordon away from the Illini in the fall. After shaking hands with Sampson after the game, Weber immediately retreated to the Illinois locker room without shaking the hands of any of IU's players or coaches. His assistants, meanwhile, did the same.

But Sampson downplayed any issues with Weber and was just glad to escape with the hard-fought win.

"It's one of those wins, a hard-fought win," Sampson said. "Illinois' guys played hard enough to win, but so did our guys."

D. White 4-9 5-7 13, Keeling 1-1 4-4 6, Bassett 6-11 2-4 15, Wilmont 8-16 0-1 17, Calloway 2-4 4-4 9, Suhr 0-0 0-0 0, Ratliff 2-4 1-2 5, Stemler 0-4 0-1 0, M. White 0-0 0-0 0, Shaw 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-49 16-23 65.

Carter 5-9 4-4 14, Randle 3-4 1-2 8, Pruitt 1-3 1-2 3, Frazier 0-5 0-3 0, McBride 5-13 0-0 13, Meacham 0-0 0-0 0, Carlwell 1-2 0-0 2, Brock 2-4 2-3 6, Smith 1-3 0-0 3, Armond 3-3 6-6 12. Totals 21-46 14-20 61.

3-Pointers: Indiana 3-9 (Bassett 1-1, Calloway 1-1, Wilmont 1-3, Stemler 0-3, Ratliff 0-1), Illinois 5-16 (McBride 3-10, Randle 1-2, Smith 1-2, Carter 0-1, Frazier 0-1). Rebounds: Indiana 28 (D. White 7), Illinois 29 (Frazier 10). Assists: Indiana 9 (Bassett 5), Illinois 13 (Frazier 5). Turnovers: Indiana 14 (Calloway 4), Illinois 17 (Pruitt 4, Frazier 4, McBride 4). Blocks: Indiana 3 (D. White 3), Illinois 2 (Carlwell, Arnold). Steals: Indiana 7 (D. White 3), Illinois 6 (Frazier 3). Top Stories