Gordon makes memorable debut

Gordon makes memorable debut

Freshman changes game with defense and scoring in 99-79 victory

By Chris Korman, H-T sports writer

November 13, 2007

Indiana guard Eric Gordon attempts to wrestle the ball away from Chattanooga’s Kevin Bridgewaters during the first half of the Hoosiers’ 99-79 victory over the Mocs Monday night at Assembly Hall. Chris Howell | Herald-Times
From the Nov. 13, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

As the 17,179 people in Assembly Hall stood to applaud Eric Gordon’s final walk to the bench Monday night, they realized they were saluting a special player.

What the bulk of them probably did not realize is that they were also cheering for the most points ever scored by an Indiana player making his career debut. George McGinnis set the previous record in 1970 by scoring 26. Gordon had 33.

More importantly, he dragged the No. 8 Hoosiers (1-0) out of a dangerous game and led them to a 99-79 win against Chattanooga (1-1) with the sort of on-ball defense that most players work for years to hone and never can.

“I thought he was the difference in the game defensively,” Mocs coach John Shulman said about Gordon. “They came out in the second half and put him on our point guard. He manhandled our point guards in the second half.”

Chattanooga had a 50-46 lead at half time, and tenacious guard Kevin Bridgewaters had 14 of those points and hadn’t turned the ball over.

When asked what was said by coach Kelvin Sampson at halftime, Indiana point guard Armon Bassett answered, “Too much. I can’t remember.”

How about this: “Eric, you’ve got Bridgewaters.”

In the second half, with Gordon guarding him, Bridgewaters turned the ball over five times and managed just two shots, both misses.

“That young man right there (Gordon) changed the complexion of the game on both ends,” Shulman said. “That’s why he’s a pretty special player.

“He’s a monster,” was how Sampson described Gordon.

Gordon hit 7-of-11 3-pointers as the Hoosiers were forced to shoot over the Mocs’ collapsing zone. He did get to the free throw line 10 times, making eight, and had six rebounds, all on defense. He added four assists and three steals, as well as a block.

“I thought I played pretty good,” Gordon said after the game. “I tried to step up in different situations.”

The Hoosiers appeared to be in trouble at the half. The Mocs used their athletic post players and a steady procession of ball screens to scramble Indiana’s defense. They had an especially easy time getting into the middle of the floor on their way to more points than any team scored against the Hoosiers in any half last year.

So Sampson switched Gordon over to cover the point of attack, and started 295-pound forward DeAndre Thomas instead of Lance Stemler in the paint. Predictably, the Chattanooga forwards no longer had an easy path through the lane.

“His width makes up for his lack of length,” Sampson said.

Thomas, who dropped 50 pounds, played 22 minutes and showed strong chemistry with guard Jamarcus Ellis, who he has been playing with since the eighth grade. Ellis led the team with nine rebounds and six assists and also had five points.

Indiana did have a scare when senior captain D.J. White (17 points, two blocks) was undercut while trying to make a block and landed on his head. As White stayed on the floor, Ellis came over to help him and held his head, which was by then bleeding from a cut over his left eye.

White didn’t stand until Sampson reached him and helped him to his feet. As he walked toward the locker room, White gave a thumbs-up to the crowd.

He did receive stitches, although Sampson did not know how many, and returned to the bench but not the game.

Sampson was pleased that his team faced an early challenge.

“I thought tonight was a perfect game for this team,” he said. “I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

He also thought it responded well by increasing its defensive intensity in the second half and holding the Mocs to 33 percent shooting.

“There’s a lot of good teams that could have lost this game,” he said.

If Sampson saw a glimmer of gutsy play from his team to go with other things he expected – scattershot execution on both ends, rusty finishing touch when facing full contact near the net, too many rushed shots – he had to be pleased that it was stirred up by his best player.

He again talked about Gordon’s efforts to get into the gym early, even invoking the name of the one of the best college basketball players of all time.

“When I was at Michigan State (as a graduate assistant coach) I used to see Magic (Johnson) do that,” he said.

As for Shulman, he saw no shame in being the first team unable to handle Gordon’s onslaught.

“It’s hard to come in and play at a place like this, especially on Eric Gordon freshman night,” he said. “They should have given out posters. I would have gotten mine autographed.”