Bloomington, Ind. – Kelvin Sampson found the right combination against Penn State.
Frustrated by a sluggish first half that had the Hoosiers down by as many as four and leading by only three at half against a short-handed Penn State team, Sampson played the same five players for the duration of the second half.
Those five players – D.J. White, Eric Gordon, Jamarcus Ellis, Lance Stemler and Armon Bassett – closed the game with a 23-9 run over the final 8:50 that blew open an otherwise close contest as Indiana topped the Lions 81-65.
The Hoosiers shot 63 percent in the second half, out-rebounded the Nittany Lions by six, and committed only four turnovers in the final 20 minutes to pull out the win and earn the praise of Sampson.
"The second half, offensively in terms of execution, moving the ball, quality of shots, not turning it over…was probably as good as we've played all year," Sampson said.
Gordon and D.J. White led the way, scoring 25 and 22, respectively, for the Hoosiers (16-1/5-0). Bassett added 17 points and had five 3-pointers, while Ellis added 12 points, five rebounds and eight assists as Indiana extended its winning streak to 12 and its homecourt streak to 28.
After scoring just 12 points and committing seven turnovers in Thursday's win at Minnesota, Gordon hit two of his five 3-pointers in the game's first four minutes and turned the ball over only one time in 39 minutes.
White, meanwhile, scored 13 points in the second half and pulled down six rebounds – a marked improvement from the first half when he corralled only one rebound and IU was out-boarded by Penn State 16-12.
Sampson said afterwards it wasn't the first time he's ever played the same five players for an entire half, and it wasn't necessarily a predetermined decision to sit the other four players who had played in the first half. But he liked what he saw from that grouping and opted to stick with it.
"Those guys this late in the season, there's no reason to make a substitution," Sampson said. "Usually you make a substitution either for fatigue or foul trouble or you're rotating a bunch of guys. I liked how that team was playing. I didn't see any reason not to leave them in there."
The one adjustment Sampson did make at half was with Ellis. Defensively, Sampson opted to put Ellis on Jamelle Cornley, who had hurt IU with nine points and seven rebounds in the opening half. Ellis was also instructed to be more aggressive offensively while attacking the Nittany Lion zone.
The results were obvious – Cornley scored 10 second-half points but didn't have any rebounds, and Ellis helped lead an IU offensive attack that converted 17-of-27 shots from the field, including 5-of-10 from behind the 3-point arc.
"The only adjustments we made was turning (Ellis) loose," Sampson said. "We tried to get the ball to him on the baseline as much as possible, get him into the middle of the zone.
"He's a really, really good basketball player."
Ellis' play helped the Hoosiers overcome a spirited effort from Penn State (10-7/2-3), which was playing its first game since leading scorer and rebounder Geary Claxton was lost for the season with a torn ACL. In his place, Cornley finished with 19 points and seven rebounds, point guard Talor Battle added 20 points and four 3-pointers, but Penn State couldn't find the third scorer that Coach Ed DeChellis said his team needs, and it couldn't keep up with the Hoosiers in the game's final 10 minutes.
"We were okay for 30 minutes," DeChellis said. "Unfortunately, this was a 40-minute game."
With the win, Indiana remains atop the Big Ten standings at 5-0. It has had some struggles along the way, trailing in the second halves of its wins over Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and now Penn State. But in each instance Sampson's team has come up with the plays it has needed to keep up its winning ways.
"I've noticed this team is good defensively when we need to be," Sampson said. "That's a good trait to have."
D. White 8-11 6-9 22, M. White 1-3 0-0 2, Crawford 0-2 0-0 0, Ellis 5-6 2-3 12, Gordon 8-17 4-4 25, Bassett 6-8 0-0 17, Thomas 0-1 0-1 0, Ratliff 0-2 0-0 0, STemler 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 29-51 12-17 81.
PENN STATE 65
Cornley 8-18 3-5 19, Jackson 1-2 0-0 2, Brooks 2-7 2-2 6, Battle 7-12 2-2 20, Morrissey 3-5 0-0 8, King 1-2 0-0 3, Walker 0-0 0-0 0, pringle 2-7 1-1 6, Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Hassell 0-0 1-4 1. Totals 24-54 9-14 65.
3-Pointers: Indiana 11-23 (Gordon 5-11, Bassett 5-6, Stemler 1-1, D. White 0-1, Crawford 0-1, Ellis 0-1, Ratliff 0-2), Penn State 8-16 (Battle 4-5, Morrissey 2-4, King 1-2, Pringle 1-2, Cornley 0-2, Brooks 0-1). Rebounds: Indiana 29 (D. White 7), Penn State 27 (Cornley 7). Assists: Indiana 18 (Ellis 8), Penn State 9 (Battle 4). Turnovers: Indiana 10, Penn State 12. Blocks: Indiana 2, Penn State 1. Steals: Indiana 6, Penn State 7. Officials: Ed Hightower, Karl Hess, Mark Whitehead.
IU Finds Right Combination in 81-65 Win
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