UPON FURTHER REVIEW: UNC-Wilmington
Game MVP - Eric Gordon. It's really not fair the rest of the Hoosiers, but there's going to be a lot of games where Eric Gordon's teammates go unrewarded in this category this season. Armon Bassett had a very good game, scoring 16 first half points and helping to spark the decisive run in the game. Others like D.J. White and DeAndre Thomas were more than solid as well, but when a player puts up 30 points on just eight shots, makes 12-13 free throws, dishes out six assists, and grabs three steals he makes the MVP award a foregone conclusion.
Gordon's effort on Tuesday night was special not just because he overcame a slow start to rally his team in dramatic fashion, but also because of its all-around nature. He didn't just score. He also found teammates for easy buckets, led on defense, and did all the little things that make good players great. The freshman from Indianapolis is now averaging 28 points per game this season and has already proven he's a legitimate candidate for the Wooden Award this year.
Biggest Surprise - DeAndre Thomas. This was supposed to be Thomas' biggest challenge of the season, facing a team with legitimate post players with good size and reach. Apparently, Thomas didn't get the memo as he ran through the competition like he was in a rec game on Tuesday night. In just 19 minutes the big man from Chicago scored 11 points on impressive 5-6 shooting.
What's also impressive is that it was Thomas who seemed to ignite the IU post game with not only his offense, but his defense. The 6-foot-8, 295-pounder scored IU's first points of the game by simply bulling his way to the basket and laying it in, something he would do several more times throughout the night. At one point he got too physical and was called for a charge, but it was good to see that Thomas understood he had to back off and began anticipating his man's defense, rolling away from it, and finding easy shots. Sampson also lauded Thomas' work on the defensive end after the game as he really fronted his man effectively and kept him from getting the ball on the blocks. The big man continues to improve with every game and while he hasn't played a lot of minutes yet, he's filled with promise.
What I Found Most Impressive - IU's defense. The Hoosiers got off to a slow start, but at around the midway point of the first half they figured it out; they weren't going to snap out of it with more offense, but with tough defense. At that point IU dramatically increased their on-the-ball defensive pressure and filled the passing lanes with busy hands. It led to a season-high 26 forced turnovers and completely changed the complexion of the entire game. Five different Hoosiers recorded steals during the game and Eric Gordon and Lance Stemler stole three a piece. Those two players led the Hoosiers in defensive effort on Tuesday night and it shows in the stats.
What I Found Most Concerning - IU's slow start had everyone in Assembly Hall a little anxious on Tuesday. Sure they had the talent to overcome it and not really worry about losing this game, but eventually these types of lackadaisical breaks from the gate could cost them games. Indiana has to find a way to bring their top-notch defense from the opening tip and not wait until the absolutely need it. Much like the season-opener against Chattanooga the Hoosiers seemed content to just play offense until they realized that it might cost them the game. Luckily, IU has been able to flip on that switch, shut down opponents, and walk away with easy wins. Eventually, though, the competition will get much stiffer, the games will be played in hostile environments, and they are going to find that switch is harder to flip than it has been thus far this season.
Turning Point - Midway through the first half when IU decided to lock down defensively. We've already discussed this, but that really was when all the hope faded for the Seahawks. During the game's first nine minutes the UNC-Wilmington offense was able to execute their sets, get where they needed to be with relative ease, pass the ball around unimpeded, and find open shots. That led to a quick 18-8 lead for the visitors and served as a shot across the bow for the Hoosiers. But IU responded like they have every time this season when they have been pushed—by absolutely clamping down on defense and making things miserable for their opponent's on offense. IU began a 24-4 run during this time of the game and it was because they created offense off of their defense. Turnovers led to fastbreak lay-ups and dunks and a high shooting percentage for the Hoosiers. By the time halftime rolled around the game was over.
Quotables: "I think you have to give credit to Coach Moss and UNC Wilmington. They came in ready to play. All these teams do. They are going to come ready to play. I've said before, I have had teams ranked in the top five in the nation before. It is a different deal when you are ranked high. As soon as they know you are on their schedule that becomes their primary focus. You have a big bull's eye on you.
"We have so many first-year guys that everything we do is a learning experience. Sometimes you forget just how inexperienced we are. Wilmington is going to win a lot of games in their league." -- IU Coach Kelvin Sampson on the Seahawks fast start
"We can be good. But every team is going to present a different challenge. I think we attacked the box-and-one, and we attacked their presses. I thought we did a great job against all their defenses. Shoot 60 percent and score 95 points and it is hard to find anything wrong with the offense." -- Sampson on how his team responded to the challenge offensively
"You know that commercial where the car just rams into the wall? The crash dummy. He crash-dummied the one kid and they called a charge and he didn't do it again. Every one of those things is good for these guys. We work with `Dre on finding contact and spinning away from contact. And that is really the only time this year he has had a charge called. Then the next time he got the ball he spun to his outside shoulder and shot a little bank shot. Early in the year, all the mistakes we are making, I see us adjusting to them and getting better." -- Sampson on Thomas' adjustments during the game
"Once we decided to start playing we turned the game around. That has been the story for us the first couple of games. We need to get out to a better start." – IU's Armon Bassett on his team's slow start
"I think we have more of an offensive swagger right now and we need to get more of a swagger on defense. It is coming, though." -- Bassett on his team building an identity
"I think he makes them go. Gordon does a tremendous job of getting in the passing lane and getting out in transition. He is a pretty good second option and a guy that can shoot the basketball and beat you off the dribble. There aren't many weaknesses on that team. They are big, they are strong on the front line. They have great guard play that can not only shoot it but get to the basket. And then they get after you defensively. When you combine those things, you have one of the best teams in the country." -- UNC-Wilmington Head Coach Benny Moss on Armon Bassett's play
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