IU Avoids Distractions, Downs MSU 80-61

Neither the dark cloud looming over head coach Kelvin Sampson nor the hoop-la of ESPN's College Gameday seemed to adversely affect the Hoosiers on Saturday night. Not even an injury to All-American candidate D.J. White could slow down the Hoosiers as they steamrolled their way to an impressive 80-61 victory.

Despite having their most energized crowd of the season on hand, the Indiana Hoosiers got off to a surprisingly flat start Saturday night, quickly falling behind 15-6. However, once the Hoosiers finally got the ball rolling against ninth-ranked Michigan State they rode a fierce wave of momentum all the way to the finish line with an emphatic 19-point victory as their reward.

Neither the dark cloud looming over head coach Kelvin Sampson nor the hoop-la of ESPN's College Gameday seemed to adversely affect the Hoosiers. Not even an injury to All-American candidate D.J. White could slow down the Hoosiers as they steamrolled their way to the 80-61 victory.

"We've been through adversity this whole year," said Gordon. "It's bee tough for us and for coach, but we just come here to play and focus on the game and the game plan for Michigan State. We just all followed it and executed it."

Saturday night's big game was just about what took place in between the lines on the court as IU dominated on both ends.

"Obviously, to beat a team like Michigan State the way we beat them tonight you got to do some things pretty good," said Sampson. "I thought execution on offense was at a really good level. Our defense was outstanding."

The victory marked the Hoosiers first win of the season over a Top 25 program and gave them sole possession of third place in the conference. More importantly, their resounding victory kept them right in the thick of the Big Ten title hunt and was a signature win on the Hoosiers NCAA tournament resume.

"This game was just a big game for us," said Gordon. "Everybody was doubting us, telling us that we couldn't beat a top 25 team. It was a big win."

After falling behind early thanks to 14 points in the game's first 12 minutes from Spartan Drew Nietzel, the Hoosiers put on the defensive clamps and turned it into offense. The Spartans would score just 15 points for the final eleven minutes of the first half while the Hoosiers used that time to score 33 points for a comfortable 41-33 halftime lead.

That lead was largely built with the early efforts of White, who as usual led his team with his energy and grit. He had six points and two rebounds before tweaking his knee and leaving the game for good with 4:55 left in the opening half. White will have a MRI tomorrow, but team doctor Larry Rink told Sampson afterwards that the knee seemed to be structurally sound and that ligament damage didn't seem to be a concern. At that time of his injury IU led 29-26 and without White their future looked questionable.

"Losing D.J. when we did your just not quite sure how the team will react to that, because he's our captain and our leader," said Sampson.

White's absence was overcome though by his supporting cast. Leading man Eric Gordon was once again brilliant, scoring 28 points on 9-15 shooting to set the Hoosier all-time freshman scoring record with 520 points, eclipsing the old record of 500 set by Mike Woodson in 1977. He was far from alone, though, as JaMarcus Ellis, DeAndre Thomas, and Jordan Crawford were all in double-figures and each made key contributions throughout. Ellis made back-to-back threes in the first half to start the IU rally from their early deficit. Crawford was huge in the second half with his best highlights being two acrobatic reverse lay-ups that sent the crowd into a hysterics. But it was Thomas' effort that was perhaps the most surprising. The 6-foot-8, 295-pound big man stepped in for White and the Hoosiers hardly missed a beat. His ten points marked the first time he has broken into double-figures in Big Ten play.

"(White) went out and we were still three up and Thomas just killed us in there," said Spartan Head Coach Tom Izzo.

IU's coach, who has took a special interest in mentoring Thomas this season, couldn't have agreed more.

"I can't tell you how proud I am of (Thomas)," said Sampson. "He deserves a lot of credit for keeping his attitude at a high level and having confidence and believing in himself and when he got his opportunity he was right there."

Thanks to the Hoosiers balanced effort never trailed after White left the game as they put the game away in the next ten minutes. A Lance Stemler three extended the IU lead to 17 points with 12 and a half minutes to play and IU never looked back. Indiana shot 54 percent for the game and limited the Spartans to just 36 percent shooting in the second half. IU's defense also harassed Michigan State into 19 costly turnovers.

"We were not going to turn it over in the second half," Izzo said of his halftime speech, "and we started out with three turnovers in a row.

"They hit some shots, too. Give Crawford some credit, he hit some shots. Gordon hit some deep threes…It still comes down to the turnovers. You can't win with 19 turnovers."

As the second half winded down Sampson was as emotional and animated as he has been all season. With just over two minutes left in the game he ran out to greet his players near midcourt with fists pumping before jumping in the air to embrace his players. Afterwards, the embattled coach didn't deny that this win was special to him.

"Yes, I think so," said Sampson when asked if this game meant a lot to him personally. "But you know the game is about these kids. IU basketball is so much bigger than one person. The game will always be about the players. I'm happy for them."

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