Champaign, Ill. - Eric Gordon managed three smiles Thursday night.
The first came during pre-game introductions when Illini guard Chester Frazier not-so-subtly chest bumped him at center court during pre-game introductions, delivering a less than hospitable welcome to Gordon in his first trip to Champaign.
The second came when he banked in a 28-footer with :23.7 seconds left in regulation to tie the game 63-63, an improbable shot that erased a 12-point second half deficit and sent the two teams to overtime.
And the final one came when the final horn sounded, the raucous Illini crowd was silenced, and the Hoosiers escaped with a drama-filled 83-79 double-overtime win against the Illini.
Gordon scored 19 points – including 17 in the second half – but it didn't come easily. Showered with boos and chants throughout and harassed by Frazier, Gordon made only 3-of-13 shots and committed seven turnovers. But in the end, he had his teammates came up with just enough plays to get over the hump and end a six-game skid in Champaign.
It was a game where the intensity on the court matched what was going on off of it.
"This was a toughness game," said IU Coach Kelvin Sampson.
It was also a game where both teams had chances to win long before the final horn sounded. Illinois center Shaun Pruitt missed a trio of free throws that could have won the game. The first came when he missed the front end of a one-and-one with :04.2 left in regulation, and he then missed a pair of free throws with :02.2 remaining in the first overtime that could have ended things.
IU's Jamarcus Ellis, meanwhile, missed two free throws of his own, missing twice with :29.3 remaining in the first overtime and the score tied.
But it was finally Armon Bassett who took over in the second overtime to give the Hoosiers a must-have win. The sophomore hit a 3-pointer to give IU a three-point lead 90 seconds into the period, then made eight straight free throws in the final two minutes to give enable the Hoosiers (19-3/8-1) to keep pace with Wisconsin and Purdue in the race for a Big Ten title.
Bassett scored 11 of his 16 points in the second overtime and was one of four Hoosiers in double figures, joining Gordon, Jordan Crawford (18) and D.J. White (16).
"Armon hit some huge shots, but probably none were bigger than those free throws," said Sampson.
Indiana's come-from-behind win erased a huge game for Illini guard Demetri McCamey, who scored 31 points on 11-of-20 shooting, including a 7-of-13 effort from behind the 3-point arc.
While it was Bassett's play down the stretch that secured the win, it was Gordon who was the center of attention. The Assembly Hall crowd was well prepared for his arrival, showering him with boos and the occasional profane chant every time he touched the ball.
Early on, it clearly had an impact. Gordon missed all four of his shots in the first half and committed two turnovers, ending the half with just one lonely free throw. He turned things around in the second half, connecting on a 25-foot 3-pointer 10 seconds into the half for his first field goal, and then helping the Hoosiers back from a double-digit hole.
"EJ, you shut him down in the first half, we told them he's going to keep coming at you," said Illinois Coach Bruce Weber.
Sampson said he had done his best to prepare Gordon and his team for the onslaught that was expected from the Illini crowd. The 16,618 didn't grow weary during the 2 ½ hour game, constantly hounding Gordon throughout.
"We talked about it with the team - it's a 94-foot rectangular slab of wood out there," Sampson said. "The game was going to be won on the floor."
Contrary to what his coach said and what the first half showed, Gordon claimed that the wasn't phased by the crowd's attention.
"I wasn't really worried about it - I just worried about getting a win," Gordon said. "It was a big road win for us we have to move onto the next game."
Pressed on the subject again later, Gordon said he was glad the game was over, but didn't confess to any nerves playing in that environment.
"It's just another big ten game," Gordon said.
He knew better.
Gordon, Hoosiers Survive in Double Overtime
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