Bloomington, Ind. – For a coach not known for smothering players with public praise, Kelvin Sampson's one-word synopsis of Eric Gordon's debut spoke volumes.
"Monster," Sampson said.
Gordon scored an IU freshman-debut record 33 points and spearheaded a second-half defensive resurgence as No. 8 Indiana overcame an early scare to defeat Chattanooga 99-79 in its season opener.
While Gordon nearly put up the single-most points ever by an IU freshman in any game – Jay Edwards scored 36 in 1988 - it was his defense that turned around IU's fortunes around. After Chattanooga raced to a 50-46 halftime lead, Sampson put Gordon on their point guard Kevin Bridgewaters at the outset of the second half.
After a 6-for-6 shooting, 14-point first half effort, Bridgewaters was limited to one missed shot and five turnovers in the second half and Indiana outscored its Southern Conference foe by 24 on its way to a deceiving 20-point win.
Sampson wasn't the only one wowed by Gordon's effort. Chattanooga Coach John Shulman couldn't help but dish out his own superlatives as well.
"Goodness day," Shulman said. "If I never play against him again, I'll watch him on TV one day and enjoy it."
Gordon blitzed the Mocs with 9-of-15 shooting and seven 3-pointers, but it was his work on the defensive end that turned around the Hoosiers' fortunes. Indiana forced UTC into five turnovers in the first four and a half minutes of the second half and put together an 11-2 run to retake control of the game.
Keyron Shear answered with one of UTC's nine 3-pointers to cut the lead to two, but Indiana's defensive effort didn't waver and Indiana eventually blew the game open in the final 10 minutes. After allowing Chattanooga to score seemingly at will in the game's first 20 minutes, the Mocs shot just 33 percent in the second half and missed 10 of 12 3-pointers.
"The story of this game is the second half, holding them to 29 points and 33 percent," Sampson said. "We started a different lineup in the second half. Our ball pressure was a lot better, more active, more aggressive."
In addition to the move of Gordon, Sampson also started DeAndre Thomas in the second half in place of Lance Stemler, and Thomas finished with 11 points and three rebounds in 22 minutes.
"You can't get that against a team that you come out and smoke by 40," Sampson said. "We needed a game like this. That first half was good for us. It's great to see us respond like we did in the second half."
While Chattanooga scared the Hoosiers early, D.J. White scared the team late. With Indiana leading by 17 at the 6:03 mark, White bit on a shot fake by Nicchaeus Doaks and crashed to the floor after being undercut on Doaks' shot attempt. White departed to the locker room to get stitches, but a thumbs up to the crowd suggested the injury wasn't anything that will keep him sidelined long.
Before departing White scored 17 points to go along with four rebounds and two blocks, while Armon Bassett (20 points, six rebounds, five assists) and Jordan Crawford (13 points) also reached double figures.
Sampson said White's presence inside was the perfect complement to Gordon's work on the perimeter.
"EJ really set the tone for us defensively, and DJ did a great job of protecting the rim," Sampson said.
While Indiana's early struggles might have caught some by surprise, Sampson said he knew Indiana would have its hands full against a Chattanooga team that tries to push the pace at every opportunity. Doaks – a first-team All-Southern Conference selection – finished with 12 points and eight rebounds and held his own inside. Bridgewaters, meanwhile, couldn't be stopped early on before Gordon eventually got involved.
"I couldn't have scripted it any better," Sampson said afterwards. "That team is really good, and we knew that coming in. They took it to us in the first half.
"There are a lot of teams that could have lost this game. It's good to see our kids battle back in the second half."
D. White 5-7 7-10 17, Stemler 0-2 0-0 0, Bassett 8-10 0-0 20, Ellis 1-4 2-3 5, Gordon 9-15 8-10 33, Thomas 4-9 3-4 11, Crawford 4-7 3-4 13, McGee 0-2 0-0 0, Holman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-56 23-31 99.
Watts 4-6 0-0 9, Doaks 5-10 0-1 12, hartwell 2-4 0-0 4, McDowell 2-13 4-4 9, Bridgewaters 6-7 0-0 14, Waddell 4-7 1-4 9, Smith 1-1 0-0 2, Cloyd 0-2 0-0 0, Sheard 2-7 2-3 7, Goffney 5-10 1-4 13. Totals 31-67 8-16 79.
3-Pointers: Indiana 14-25 (Gordon 7-11, Crawford 2-4, Bassett 4-5, Ellis 1-2, Stemler 0-1, McGee 0-2), Chattanooga 9-30 (Goffney 2-4, Bridgewaters 2-3, Doaks 2-5, McDowell 1-10, Sheard 1-4, Watts 1-2, Cloyd 0-2). Rebounds: Indiana 32 (Ellis 9), Chattanooga 34 (Doaks 8). Assists: Indiana 20 (Ellis 6), Chattanooga 15 (Watts 4). Turnovers: Indiana 13, Chattanooga 16. Blocks: Indiana 4, Chattanooga 3. Steals: Indiana 7, Chattanooga 9. Halftime Score: Chattanooga 50, Indiana 46. Officials: Steve Welmer, John Higgins, Les Jones. Attendance: 17,179
Gordon Does It All as Hoosiers Prevail, 99-79
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