Bloomington, Ind. – It wasn't so much the recruit Indiana landed more than a year ago that made the difference in IU's 62-58 win over Illinois Sunday, but rather the two that it just got back.
Armon Bassett and A.J. Ratliff made big shots to help IU get out of a seven-point second half hole, and the Hoosiers survived a potential game-winning 3-point attempt from Brian Randle in the final 10 seconds and a potential game-tying shot from Calvin Brock seconds later and escaped with hard-fought, hotly-contested win over Illinois.
Sunday's match-up drew national attention because it was the first head-to-head match-up between Eric Gordon and the team he had originally intended to play. Although Gordon scored a game-high 17, it was the play of Bassett and Ratliff that keyed the Hoosiers to their tenth consecutive win.
Saddled with bone chips in his ankle since Dec. 29, Bassett scored all 11 of his points in the second half, including a trio of huge 3-pointers. Ratliff, meanwhile, made his first significant contribution of the year after dealing with academic issues and then an ankle injury, scoring seven points to go along with a critical block and steal in the game's final 15 seconds.
It was just enough for the Hoosiers to emerge victorious in a game that many didn't expect to be this difficult considering the recent struggles of Illinois (8-9/0-4), which lost its fifth straight.
"The bottom line is we found a way to win the game," IU Coach Kelvin Sampson said. "That's what this thing is about."
It wasn't easy. Indiana used a 10-0 run midway through the second half to turn a 45-39 deficit into a 49-45 lead with 10:19 remaining. After Illinois whittled the lead back down to two, 50-48, Bassett hit a 3-pointer to push the lead back to five. Illinois' Shaun Pruitt responded with a bucket for two of his team-high 14 points to cut the margin back to three, but Ratliff followed soon afterwards with a 3-pointer to give IU its biggest lead of the game, 57-51, with 4:29 left.
But Illinois wasn't done. Pruitt scored four quick points to cut the margin back to two, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.
With Indiana clinging to a two-point lead with under two minutes remaining, Eric Gordon fired a pass into the post presumably for D.J. White. But the ball was deflected to Bassett on the left wing, who drilled his third and final 3-pointer to put IU back up five.
"That's what I do," said Bassett. "I'm going to hit some big shots. That's what I do."
Bassett's shot seemed like the final dagger, but the Illini refused to go away just yet. Trent Meachum knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner on Illinois' next possession to once again cut the margin to two, 60-58, with 1:22 left.
"That's part of the game," said D.J. White, who tallied another double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. "They're not going to give up in situations like that."
After Jamarcus Ellis and Bassett missed floaters on the other end, Illinois had a chance for the tie or the win. Ratliff thwarted their first attempt, blocking a driving reverse lay-up by Demetri McCamey out of bounds with 14 seconds remaining. Illinois would get two more chances, but Randle's 3-point attempt from the top of the key came up well short, and A.J. Ratliff stripped Calvin Brock after Brock had secured the offensive rebound and attempted to go up for a game-tying put back with three seconds left.
After the ensuing foul, Bassett made two free throws to give Indiana the win.
Ratliff's defensive work late was representative of a much better effort from the Hoosiers on that end of the floor in the final 10 minutes. Illinois made its first six shots of the game to open an early 13-4 lead and shot nearly 50 percent in the opening half, but the Hoosiers limited the Illini to just 7-of-21 shooting in the game's final 20 minutes.
"Our defense in the last 10 minutes was really good," Sampson said. "That's why we won the game."
Gordon admitted to being a little excited about the big match-up, and didn't have his best game. He finished 4-of-10 from the floor and 1-of-6 from the 3-point arc and committed four turnovers.
Illinois rotated a variety of players onto him, including 6'9" forward Brian Randle on occasion.
"Calvin (Brock) and Brian (Randle) did a great job on E.J.," Weber said. "We rotated some people, we never let him get in a rhythm. We were going to trap him everytime he got the ball."
While Indiana was happy to escape with the win, Illinois was left frustrated. The Illini had a chance for the win despite the fact they played without starting point guard Chester Frazier, but couldn't make the critical plays down the stretch.
"It doesn't do us any good - we're 0-4. I'd like to be happy. But I'm not. It's said, it's hard, it's very difficult" said Illini Coach Bruce Weber.
D. White 5-9 5-6 15, M. White 2-3 0-3 4, Crawford 2-8 0-0 4, Ellis 1-6 2-2 4, Gordon 4-10 8-10 17, Bassett 3-5 2-2 11, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Ratliff 2-7 1-2 7, Stemler 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-49 18-25 62.
Randle 3-7 3-6 9, Pruitt 5-8 4-6 14, Meachum 2-8 2-2 8, Brock 3-6 2-2 8, McCamey 2-10 0-0 6, Jordan 0-0 0-0 0, Holdren 1-3 0-1 3, Alexander 0-0 0-0 0, Davis 2-2 1-2 5, Tisdale 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 20-48 13-21 58.
3-Pointers: Indiana 6-21 (Bassett 3-4, Ratliff 2-6, Gordon 1-6, Crawford 0-3, Stemler 0-1, Ellis 0-1). Illinois 5-18 (Meachum 2-6, McCamey 2-6, Holdren 1-3, Randle 0-1, Brock 0-1, Tisdale 0-1). Rebounds: Indiana 33 (D. White 10), Illinois 33 (Randle 10). Assists: Indiana 6 (Gordon 2), Illinois 13 (McCamey 5). Turnovers: Indiana 12, Illinois 11. Blocks: Indiana 6 (D. White 2, Ellis, Ratliff, Stemler, Gordon), Illinois 0. Steals: Indiana 2, Illinois 2. Officials: Steve Welmer, Tom O'Neill, Jamie Luckie. Technical Fouls: Indiana – D. Thomas, Illinois – Pruitt. Attendance: 17,359.
Hoosiers Survive Against Illini, 62-58
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