Raleigh, N.C. – The derailment is complete.
Indiana's once promising season flickered out Friday night, extinguished in the NCAA's first round by an Arkansas team that was too big, too athletic and ultimately too much for the floundering Hoosiers.
With the 86-72 setback, Indiana closes the year with four losses in its last five games to finish 25-8. Arkansas (23-11) advances to a Sunday afternoon match-up with No. 1 North Carolina with a berth in the Sweet 16 in Charlotte on the line.
Other than an untimely technical whistled on Coach Dan Dakich four minutes into the game for shooting a stray basketball instead of handing it to a referee, the Hoosiers didn't get off to the same sort of miserable start that they have as of late. But IU's one-point lead midway through the first half was short-lived as it was once again done in by a shooting slump Eric Gordon couldn't shake and the same lack of resiliency that's defined this team since Kelvin Sampson resigned a month ago.
Mired in a 5-of-40 slump from behind the 3-point arc entering the game, Gordon missed all six of his 3-point attempts Friday night and was 3-of-15 overall on his way to a season-low six points. It was one of only two times Gordon failed to score in double figures this season, along with his eight-point effort against Tennessee State when he was left the game in the first half with a hip injury.
"Eric Gordon is a tremendous player, he's strong, he's fast, and he can shoot it," said Arkansas' Patrick Beverley, who was matched up with him much of the night. "He can do a lot of things. It wasn't a one-man wrecking crew that had to stop him, it was a team effort."
While Gordon struggled, D.J. White scored 11 of his team-high 22 points and Lance Stemler chipped in a couple of timely 3s early on to keep IU close, but it wasn't enough to keep the Hoosiers from landing in a seven-point hole, 37-30, by intermission.
Arkansas took control with a 17-6 first-half flurry that erased IU's 19-18 lead and turned it into a 10-point Razorback cushion. Reserve guard Stefan Welsh got it started with a transition 3 that enabled Arkansas to retake the lead. After Welsh was forced to the sidelines with a left ankle injury, Sonny Weems scored seven of Arkansas' final 11 points during the run, capped by 3-pointer at the 3:12 mark that gave Arkansas a 35-25 lead.
Indiana managed to cut into the Razorbacks lead a couple of times in the second half and once got as close as two, 49-47, but Weems came up with every necessary answer. The Razorbacks' leading scorer made 12-of-14 attempts on his way to 31 points to lead his team to their first NCAA win since 1999.
"We all aspire to have a game like that in the NCAA Tournament," Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey said.
While Weems was filling it up, Gordon was unable to get anything to drop. Arkansas frustrated him with a variety of players and defensive looks that produced the worst game of his IU career.
"They did a good job of locating and squaring up on Eric," Dakich said. "Eric has struggled a little bit with his shot, but he's so explosive. They did a good job of keeping him in front."
With Gordon struggling, IU leaned on White on the inside and Armon Bassett from the perimeter. White finished with 22 points and nine rebounds and Bassett scored 17 of 21 in the second half, but it wasn't nearly enough to earn the Hoosiers a trip to the second round.
It all resulted in a disappointing end to White's collegiate career. White left the game for the final time in the closing minutes after a meaningless lay-up, clutching his leg from an apparent cramp. White was unavailable afterwards as he received IV, not the sort of way he anticipated this season or his career coming to a close.
"D.J.'s been a warrior," Dakich said. "He's given everything he has to Indiana University."
While IU's on-the-court work is done, there's still plenty ahead for the program. Its search for a full-time coach figures to be full steam ahead, and Gordon's decision to depart to the NBA appears imminent.
"The season's over, the games are over, but a lot of things have to occur within IU basketball, or a lot of things are going to occur with Indiana basketball that need to occur with IU basketball," Dakich said. "It's far from over."
Hoosiers Make Quick Exit From NCAA Tourney
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