HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. – There were times here inside the Sears Center Friday night that things could have looked better for Indiana, as the No. 8 Hoosiers met up with Illinois State in the Chicago Invitational Challenge.
"Obviously there were parts of the game tonight that weren't really pretty," said IU coach Kelvin Sampson after his Hoosiers held on to defeat ISU 70-57. "I don't care about that. At the end of the day we're 4-0 and that's what our goal was."
The still undefeated Hoosiers will face Xavier in the tourney final Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
Whether or not starting point guard Armon Bassett will play against the Musketeers is unknown, after the Terre Haute sophomore left the Indiana bench late in the first half with an unspecified leg injury.
Bassett eventually returned to the IU bench a few minutes after the start of the second half, but never entered the game. He eventually disappeared back into the Indiana locker room.
Indiana's second leading scorer at 17.7 points per game was only able to contribute four points and one assist in 18 minutes of action against the Redbirds.
After the game Sampson still didn't know the extent of Bassett's injury. And while he admitted that not having Bassett in the lineup was a big loss, the head Hoosier tried to find something positive to take away from the situation.
"We practice everyday with (Bassett) as our point guard," Sampson said. "Not having him the last 20 minutes, I think is a blessing in disguise, a little bit"
In Bassett's absence, Sampson turned to Jordan Crawford, who stepped in and played the entire second half. The freshman responded by scoring 10 points in second half.
On the night, in a season-high 30 minutes Crawford tallied 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out four assists.
His point total was the second most of any Hoosier.
In what has become a reoccurring theme for IU, the Hoosier's leading scorer, for the fourth time this year, was Eric Gordon with 31 points.
Levi Dyer, who was 5-for-6 from behind the three-point arc, led the Redbirds in scoring with 18 points.
Gordon, IU's do-everything freshman, connected on 11-of-18 shots from the field, including 2-of-3 from behind the three-point line.
It was the third time this season the Gordon reached the 30-point plateau.
But besides Gordon's aesthetics and Crawford's contribution, the contest was a struggle for the Hoosiers.
That was especially apparent in the first ten minutes of the second half when the Redbirds put on their brass knuckles and pushed the Hoosiers into a corner.
IU saw a 10-point halftime lead that had swelled to 14 points just over a minute into the final half, dwindle to two, following an Anthony Slack layup with 10:27 left in the game. Slack's basket made the score 50-48.
IU responded though.
"I thought we handled the street fight a lot better the last ten minutes than earlier," Sampson said.
Indiana outscored Illinois State 20-9 down the stretch, with 17 of those points coming from Gordon and Crawford.
But the final 600 seconds came down to more than just the scoring prowess of IU's two freshmen.
"We got a lot of loose balls, got a lot of rebounds, defended well and got to the free throw line," Sampson said. "Part of our goal was to get to the free throw line."
Indiana outrebounded Illinois State 28-16 in the second half.
And while IU's 24 free throw attempts was the team's second lowest total of the season, in the final 10:13 of the game the Hoosiers went to the free throw line 14 times. They made good on ten of their attempts.
"That was a big key for us, getting (Illinois State) in foul trouble," Sampson said after Illinois State committed 26 infractions against his team. "And that's going to be a big part of this team's offense.
"Obviously we need our bigs to play better, but I'm sure they will as we go along."
Indiana's starting front court of D.J. White and DeAndre Thomas was only able to muster 12 points and grab 11 rebounds.
Not only was it was the tandems lowest offensive output of the year, but White's four-point marked the first time he didn't score in double digits this season.
But it was enough on this cold, suburban Chicago Friday night.
"I think every coach in America today will say ‘You know it's early, it's November,'" Sampson said. "We're all fighting through some rough patches here. We just gotta keep working at it."
Indiana 70, Illinois State 57
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