Game MVP - Eric Gordon. Sure the Hoosiers' standout freshman finished five points below his season average of 27.3, but IU Coach Kelvin Sampson said afterwards that Gordon's 22-point, 40-minute effort was his best in seven games in a Hoosier uniform. He knocked down 7-of-14 shots, including 4-of-7 from behind the 3-point arc, and also looked to attack the SIU defense off the dribble. Defensively he blocked a trio of perimeter jump shots, showing off the ability to get out and contest jump shots from IU's zone defense. Finally, he keyed a pivotal 11-3 IU run midway through the second half that turned a 40-34 lead into a 51-37 edge with 5:37 remaining. Gordon scored eight points during the flurry, starting and ending it with 3-pointers to give IU its first double-digit lead of the evening.
Biggest Surprise… After a slow start, Indiana dominated a top-25 team in one of the toughest venues in college basketball. The Salukis entered the game with a sterling 80-3 mark at SIU Arena in the last five-plus seasons, but the last lead for Coach Chris Lowery's team came at 14-11 with 10 minutes to go in the first half. Gordon knotted the game at 14-14 with a 3-pointer, and IU would never trail again. Indiana's success came in large part to its dominance on the boards (38-29) and a stingy defense that forced Southern Illinois into just 37.5 percent shooting (21-of-56). This is the same Southern Illinois team that limited IU to 38 percent shooting in last year's 57-47 IU win in Bloomington, but there wasn't much that didn't go IU's way Saturday night in Carbondale.
What I Found Most Impressive… The difference between Indiana this Saturday compared to last Saturday. A week ago on a neutral court, the fully-stocked Hoosiers had no answers for a veteran Xavier team that whipped Sampson's squad 80-65. The setback was so revealing that it prompted Sampson to remove the redshirt from Mike White so IU would have more of a veteran presence off the bench. Now, just seven days after the team's worst performance of the season, IU turned in its best effort of the year on the road. Seven days ago Indiana didn't look like a top-25 team, let alone a top-10 squad. But this week Indiana did something that only four of the last 84 visitors to SIU Arena have been able to do by getting a win. It's a victory that figures to do plenty for the team's confidence and will also pay dividends come March when the NCAA looks for impressive road victories.
What I Found Most Concerning… It's a short-lived problem, but the Hoosiers' bench is virtually non-existent. For the second straight game IU played only seven players, with only DeAndre Thomas (8 minutes) and Mike White (21 minutes) coming off the bench. The situation is especially dire in the backcourt, where Eric Gordon, Armon Bassett and Jamarcus Ellis combined to sit only seven minutes. Ellis likely would have played all 40 minutes if it wasn't for three first-half fouls that sent him to the bench with 4:21 remaining before intermission.
Indiana expects to get both A.J. Ratliff (academics) and Jordan Crawford (three-game suspension) back from Saturday's Kentucky game, which will give Sampson some much-needed depth in the backcourt. That will shore things up at the guard position, but IU could have some depth issues with its frontcourt down the road. Eli Holman didn't play for the second straight game, suggesting he won't be a big part of the team's rotation this season. DeAndre Thomas is the team's only other big man besides D.J. White who is effective at generating his own offense in the point, but he's played only 10 minutes in the last two games.
Turning Point: The final five minutes of the first half. With the game tied 22-22, Indiana went on a 12-3 run to go up by nine and settled for a 34-28 lead at halftime. SIU would get no closer than four the entire second half. While Gordon, Bassett, Lance Stemler, Mike White and Thomas were knocking down shots during IU's run, Southern Illinois missed four out of five attempts from the floor, and Randal Falker missed three out of four free throws - including the front end of a one-and-one - to squander some SIU scoring opportunities. While Indiana didn't put t he game away until midway through the second half, the final minutes of the first half put SIU in the sort of hole that's difficult to get out of for a grind-it-out, defensive-minded team.
Upon Further Review: Southern Illinois
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