Bloomington, Ind. – There's plenty for Dan Dakich to be concerned about as his team prepares for a trip to East Lansing that could make-or-break its Big Ten Championship fate.
But Eric Gordon's recent shooting slump isn't one of them.
While the Hoosiers' leading scorer is coming off a 4-of-16 shooting night against Ohio State Tuesday and has made only 10-of-32 attempts in his last three games, Dakich views it as little more than an aberration.
"He's so competitive, so good, so focused on winning," Dakich said, "I don't worry about him."
One of the concerns raised by others is the fact Indiana has now played 28 games, which is longer than what freshmen are used to in their first year out of high school. As the season winds down many younger players talk about "hitting the wall" once the season drags on longer than what they've grown accustomed to, but Dakich said that's not the case with Gordon.
"A lot of freshmen hit walls, but not great ones," Dakich said. "And I don't think he has. I just think he's missed some shots he'd normally hit, and that's going to happen."
It's been happening a lot since Gordon went 9-of-15 and scored 27 against Michigan State two weeks ago. While Gordon has still managed to average 19.0 points in the last three outings, he's been firing more blanks than bullets, going only 3-of-16 from 3-point range. That has dropped his long-range percentage to a season-low 38 percent, and after spending a good portion of the year around 50 percent from the field, his overall percentage has dipped to 45.4 percent.
Gordon has made up for his inability to knock down perimeter shots by attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line. He's 34-of-38 from the charity stripe during the three-game winning streak and has now made more free-throws (196) than anyone else in the Big Ten has attempted (Michigan's Manny Harris has attempted 168). His 229 free-throw attempts, meanwhile, is 61 more than anyone else in the Big Ten.
Gordon has averaged five turnovers/game in his last three outings as he's relied more on dribble penetration, but that's another thing Dakich says he can live with considering how Gordon plays.
"I know he's had some turnovers, but when you go that hard all the time into the middle of defenses, that's going to happen," Dakich said.
Teammate D.J. White concurs that Gordon's shooting struggles aren't a reflection in an overall slip in his play as of late. In fact, White has seen his freshman sidekick elevate in other areas that have helped Indiana win all three of those games.
"Even though his shots not falling, he's still doing other things to help us win – getting to the free-throw line, drawing fouls, playing defense, rebounding pretty well," White said.
That was apparent Tuesday night, when Gordon missed 12 of 16 shots, but still managed to play a big role in IU's 72-69 win over Ohio State. He scored six of his 17 points in the final 1:46, including a key putback dunk off a Lance Stemler miss that gave IU a six-point lead, followed by four free throws in the game's final 1:02.
Dakich was appreciative of the other things Gordon did to make up for his struggles from the floor.
"Six rebounds, makes the free throws at the end - I'm guessing he sold a little popcorn, probably taught the dance team a few steps," Dakich said. "He probably did it all."
Dakich is also quick to point out that even the best players to ever play the game miss their share of shots and go through slumps. But those players still find ways to score and figure out other avenues to help their teams be successful.
"You go back and watch highlights of Michael Jordan, you see him make it," Dakich said. "If you go back and look statistically, you're going to see a lot of misses in there, too, some 6-for-25 nights but still ended up with 25 points.
"To me, that's Eric. He's just a really good player. A really good guy, a tough competitor. He's the best to me."
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