Bloomington, Ind. – Eric Gordon had some bad news for Illinois Thursday.
He plans treat this weekend's nationally-televised, highly-anticipated match-up against the Illini with the same sort of "business as usual" approach that he's displayed in the season's first 14 games.
"I know a lot of people are looking forward to this game, but I'm going to play the same way I've played other teams," Gordon said.
That's reason to be concerned if you're Illini Coach Bruce Weber, whose team has lost three in a row to slip to 8-7 heading into tonight's game against Wisconsin in Madison. After all, Gordon is leading the Big Ten in scoring (23.5) by nearly five points per game and ranks third in 3-point field goal percentage (44.6). He scored at least 20 points in 11 of the 13 games he's played in and eclipsed 25 points on six occasions.
If that wasn't bad enough, he's also better than anyone in the league at getting to the free-throw line, where he makes his attempts at an 85.5 percent clip, ranking him second.
While Gordon might ultimately treat Illinois just as unkindly as he's treated Indiana's other opponents, he said it won't be because of any extra motivation caused by his highly-publicized recruitment. After originally verbally committing to Illinois in the summer after his junior season, Gordon later backed off that pledge and wound up in Bloomington.
That decision and the particulars of how it unfolded have stoked the Indiana-Illinois rivalry to levels that may rival what it was some 20 years ago. That's when former Illinois Coach Lou Henson referred to former IU Coach Bob Knight as a "classic bully" and bemoaned the fact that Knight "rapes our state, takes our players," - in reference to the slew of preps from Illinois that made up some of Knight's best Hoosier teams.
Knight and Henson have long since departed, but Gordon, Sampson and Weber are the new names that have fanned the flames of this rivalry.
Sampson was on the receiving end of plenty the Illini fans' venom during IU's trip to Champaign a year ago, and Hoosier fans reciprocated the reception for Weber when the Illini came to town. But this marks the first time that all three parties involved will be involved.
That fact has stirred up fans from both programs as the game draws near, but Sampson said he doesn't expect it to have much of an impact on the mild-mannered, soft-spoken Gordon.
"Not at all," Sampson said when asked if he thought the situation would impact how Gordon played. "Eric doesn't think like you think."
Sampson's point was that even though Gordon is only 19 years old and playing in just his third Big Ten Conference game, he's yet to show any signs that the magnitude of the moment can get to him.
Gordon does acknowledge that it's a highly-anticipated game to many, but he's looking at it as just the next game on the Hoosiers' schedule.
"It's just another Big Ten game," Gordon said. "I knew this was going to be a big game that's going to kind of be toward me and coach. But it's a normal game in the Big Ten that we're going to have to play."
Gordon Unflappable as Illini Match-Up Nears
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