Lions Grab a Win Amid Davis Circus

The Mike Davis death watch rolled through Happy Valley Wednesday night, as the coach on the hottest seat in the nation brought a horde of media with him to the Jordan Center. Indiana and Penn State played a basketball game, there, too.

Hear Ed DeChellis Here.
Hear Mike Davis Here.

By the end of the Knight, uh, we mean night, news broke that Mike Davis had resigned from his post as IU coach, effective at the end of the season. And the Nittany Lions escaped with a 71-68 win to improve to 12-11 on the season and 4-8 in the Big Ten, reviving their hopes of earning an NIT bid.

“It's important for us to win some games,” Lion coach Ed DeChellis said. “We're keeping ourselves alive to make it to postseason play.”

He made the comments in the BJC media room, which quickly emptied after Davis held his press conference and declined comment on a SportsIllustrated.com report citing unnamed IU sources saying he delivered his resignation a week ago.

“I'm not answering anything about my job,” Davis said when asked if the report was accurate. Later, he added, “If I say something, I'll say the wrong thing. I have to keep my mouth shut and focus on our basketball team.”


Mike Davis.

That kind of strange dichotomy was the theme of the night. While the Davis story generated the largest press turnout in years at the BJC - complete with satellite trucks, live press-room feed to ESPN and a host of television cameras - the Nittany Lions' fight to make the NIT after four straight losing seasons clearly means the world to them.

The Davis news broke just after 9:30 p.m., while the Hoosiers and Lions were engaged in a spirited second half featuring 11 lead changes and seven ties.

In a clear indicator of how much things have changed in Bloomington since legendary coach Bob Knight was replaced by Davis in 2000, IU relied heavily on 3-point shooting against undersized PSU, hoisting 34 triples and making 12, with wings Robert Vaden, Marshall Strickland and A.J. Ratliff hitting three each.

Penn State, despite starting no one taller than 6-foot-5, dominated the paint, with forwards Travis Parker (21 points) and Geary Claxton (20 points) combining for 41 markers and 16 boards. That also helped the Lions build a huge advantage from the line, where they shot 26 freebies (making 17) to Indiana's seven.

The different styles made for the best game in the building this season, one where over the last 15 minutes there was only one lead of more than four. It was knotted at 63-63 with five minutes to go when reporters on press row using wireless Internet access picked up on the SI.com story. And as fate would have it, the Lions held the upper hand the rest of the way.

Claxton hit a baseline jumper and Vaden countered. Then PSU guard Ben Luber made a short jumper and Claxton converted from the arc to make it 70-65.

At the final media timeout, with 3:41 to go, momentum clearly favored the Lions. But Davis doubted the report of his resignation had any impact on the game; at that moment or overall.

“I'm quite sure they didn't read anything during the game,” he said, referring to his players.

The teams bumbled back and forth the rest of the way, but the closest IU could get was 70-67 when Vaden made a jumper with 2:37 left. The teams swapped five empty possessions before PSU's Mike Walker made a poor inbound pass for Parker with half a minute to go. The Hoosiers got the steal.

Vaden missed a short shot with 16 seconds left but grabbed his own rebound. Then Strickland missed a 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds showing. Parker rebounded and was fouled, and made one of two free throws to seal it.

“We didn't play very smart the last minute,” DeChellis said. Yet in another sign of the slow progress the Lions are making, they came out on top despite not playing their best ball.

“I think it's a big win, because we really want to get to the postseason,” said Parker, PSU's only senior. “It builds confidence, and we'll come back with some pep in our step tomorrow.”

Davis didn't exactly have much pep in his step in what figures to be his final visit to the Jordan Center as Indiana coach. His team, at 13-9 overall and 5-6 in the league after losing six of seven, is officially out of conference title contention and is a long shot to make the NCAA tournament.

Though the Davis circus added some spice to the atmosphere, DeChellis said his program paid no attention. The focus is on the postseason march.

“I didn't address it at all,” he said of the Davis situation. “I was worrying about the team wearing white tonight.”

GAME NOTES

• The Lions must win two of their final four regular-season games to assure themselves of an NIT bid heading into the Big Ten tournament. PSU closes with Purdue and Indiana on the road, Northwestern at home, and then Iowa on the road.

• State held IU's leading scorer, big man Marco Killingsworth, to 10 points on nine shots.

• Penn State is at Purdue Saturday in a game that tips at 2:30 p.m.

See the box score.

See what Hoosier Nation had to say about the game.

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