Game MVP - Eric Gordon. I don't know that there are enough superlatives to heap on the freshman's debut performance on both sides of the ball. Offensively he scored 33 points on only 15 shots, knocking down 7-of-11 3-pointers. Three of those 3-pointers and 11 of his points came during a 3 ½ minute stretch midway through the second half when Indiana put together a 15-6 run to turn an eight-point lead at the 10-minute mark into a comfortable 17-point margin with 6:41 remaining.
As good as he was offensively, Gordon drew he strongest reviews for his work defensively. After Indiana had allowed Chattanooga to score 50 points and shoot 56.8 percent in the first half, IU Coach Kelvin Sampson matched Gordon up against Mocs' point guard Kevin Bridgewaters at the start of the second half. Bridgewaters – who was a perfect 6-of-6 for 14 points and zero turnovers in the first half – got off only one shot in the second half (he missed it) and committed five turnovers. As he floundered so did the Chattanooga offense. The Mocs shot just 33.3 percent in the second half, were 2-of-12 from 3-point range, and scored just 29 points while surrendering 53 to Indiana.
Biggest Surprise… DeAndre Thomas. When Thomas arrived in Bloomington as a 350-pound behemoth, some wondered if he'd even be able to survive Sampson's practices and make it to the season. But the Chicago native has lost 50 pounds and now appears to be a great pick-up for the team. While Gordon's defensive play at the start of the second half was huge, Thomas was also inserted into the lineup for some energy and attitude and he responded with a nine-point, four-rebound second half. While he probably won't play 22 minutes in most games like he did in the opener, he gives the Hoosiers another big body defensively in the paint, and he's a capable finisher around the rim. When Indiana goes up against teams that have two legitimate post players, expect to see Thomas playing more and more alongside D.J. White.
What I Found Most Impressive… How Indiana responded in the second half. The 20-point victory against Chattanooga didn't come as a big surprise, but how it came about caught many off guard. After Indiana opened an 11-point first half lead, the Mocs outscored the Hoosiers 32-17 over the final 10:31 of the half. Chattanooga made 14-of-21 shots during that stretch a took plenty of momentum into the locker room. But Indiana did an about-face defensively in the second half and dominated the game's final 20 minutes. Afterwards Sampson said he couldn't have scripted the game any better, as his eighth-ranked team faced some adversity and still managed to emerge victorious against a quality Southern Conference foe.
What I Found Most Concerning… Lance Stemler was a non-factor. With scorers like D.J. White, Eric Gordon and Armon Bassett Indiana won't look to Stemler for as much scoring as maybe they did a year ago, but he's going to have to do more than his 0-for-2 shooting, zero-rebound, three-foul effort if he wants to remain in the starting lineup. Stemler missed a pair of open shots, gave up a couple of back door buckets, and picked up some careless fouls against Chattanooga. He's still someone who will dive on the floor and come up with hustle plays, but he needs to be able to knock down the open jump shots that he'll get when IU's guards penetrate and look to kick it to him and other shooters. Indiana has more depth on this year's roster and thus more options to turn to if Stemler continues to struggle, but he's still probably the best option for Sampson if IU goes up against a perimeter-oriented four-man. Stemler's play was easily the biggest disappointment of an otherwise solid win against a quality Chattanooga squad.
Turning Point: The first 4 ½ minutes of the second half. Gordon forced Bridgewaters and back-up point guard Keyron Sheard into a combined four turnovers and IU went on a 11-2 run to turn a four-point deficit into a five-point lead. Chattanooga would never lead again. D.J. White started IU's scoring with an offensive rebound and dunk, and Gordon brought IU's fans to their feet with a fast-break dunk at the 18:28 mark that tied the game at 50. White, DeAndre Thomas and Armon Bassett scored on layups on IU's next three possessions, and Chattanooga's chances of springing a huge upset were dashed.
Quotable: "Coach told us to pick up our intensity. We knew we were getting it going in the first half, but you could tell how we played in the second half and that we won by 20 points, so it was good for us." – IU freshman Eric Gordon on the start of the second half.
"Boy, you saw a pretty good player out there (Gordon). Gracious day. You talk about a mature freshman – he's a great player, and he made great plays. You applaud people when they do that. Hopefully we don't have to play any of them in our league." – Chattanooga Coach John Shulman.
"They defended the ball screen a whole lot better to slow me down. I think they doubled a couple of times. They kind of denied me pretty well…(Gordon's) good. He's bigger than I thought he was." – Kevin Bridgewaters on what IU did to slow him down in the second half.
"I feel like the difference in the game was Gordon defensively. He manhandled our point guards in the second half. We couldn't get off the ball screen, we couldn't get off the plays…he was dominating defensively, which disrupted everything we wanted offensively. That young man changed the complexion of the game on both ends." – Shulman.
"This is not an easy atmosphere for any body to come in, especially on Eric Gordon freshman night. They should have given out posters. I'd get mine autographed." – Shulman.
Random Thoughts/Notes: A.J. Ratliff was on the bench, so rumors about his status with the team appear to have been misguided and inaccurate…other than a couple of ill-advised shots, Monday's night's contest was also a perfect example of what IU fans can expect from junior Jamarcus Ellis. The small forward finished with only five points, but he led the team with nine rebounds, six assists and 36 minutes. While D.J. White will likely lead the team in rebounding by season's end, it's a good bet that Ellis will lead the team in assists and will likely rank second in rebounding…any thoughts of redshirting either Brandon McGee or Eli Holman is now by the wayside after both played in the final minutes. Sampson hadn't suggested that either would redshirt, so it's no surprise that both played…Mike White, meanwhile, remains a redshirt possibility. But it's also well within the realm of possibility that if IU does get a commitment from Kevin Jones this week that IU will begin playing Mike White this season. The concern appears to be that if IU doesn't get another big man in the class, it will lose Stemler and D.J. White at season's end while adding only Tom Pritchard. But if IU can add Jones, depth won't be as big of a concern on the frontcourt next season.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Chattanooga
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