IU rallies around coach

IU rallies around coach

With Sampson

By Chris Korman, H-T sports writer

February 17, 2008

Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson hugs Jordan Crawford (5) as he, Jamarcus Ellis and Armon Bassett (1) head back to the bench during a second-half timeout. Chris Howell | Herald-Times
From the Feb. 17, 2008 Bloomington Herald-Times

A shimmering, exalting game erupted out of the vapid morass that surrounded the Indiana basketball program on Saturday night.

The No. 13 Hoosiers beat No. 10 Michigan State, 80-61, at Assembly Hall, and did so without senior captain D.J. White in the second half.

Head coach Kelvin Sampson, who may have less than a week left as the coach of this team, did his best coaching of the year just by being there. He has been looking all season for a way to rouse the spirit of this team. Pulling them into his bunker as his career teeters on the brink worked.

Sampson did not want to talk about his future after the game. Athletic director Rick Greenspan is leading an investigation into allegations that Sampson knowingly violated recruiting rules and then lied about it. He will make a recommendation to university president Michael McRobbie about what should be done with a basketball program facing five charges of committing major NCAA violations on Friday.

After stoically taking the court to a chorus of boos, Sampson’s demeanor loosened as his team began playing for him.

At first, the Hoosiers seemed downtrodden and the Spartans were intent on derailing them early. Michigan State had a 15-4 lead at 13:33 of the first half and Indiana’s offense had consisted only of D.J. White making plays. Indiana had no flow.

But then an Ellis steal and White dunk set the Hoosiers on a 14-3 run that ended when Gordon blocked a Drew Neitzel 3-pointer and the dunked on a fast break. Gordon led the Hoosiers with 28 points and broke Mike Woodson’s record for most points as a freshman. Gordon now has 520; Woodson scored 500.

Jamarcus Ellis hit two quick 3-pointers — he hadn’t had two in a game all year — and Indiana led 29-26 when White was injured. He went hard at the rim but was blocked by Idong Ibok with 4:55 left in the first half. The force of the block made him come down from his jump more quickly than he expected. His left leg buckled, and he grabbed at the back of his knee.

Sampson said that White will have an MRI today and that doctors believe there is no ligament damage and that the knee is “solid.”

Indiana relied on the 2-3 zone it has used recently to adapt to White’s absence. DeAndre Thomas, who recently started working out more to keep his weight down, played 16 minutes. He scored 10 points and had four rebounds.

Gordon converted a Kyle Taber steal — the Spartans had 10 turnovers — into a 3-pointer and by the end of the half Indiana led by 12.

“It all started when D.J. White came out of the game,” Michigan State guard Drew Neitzel said. “It kind of gave them a spark. Without him, they stepped up and made some plays.”

Michigan State never made a run in the second half. Gordon was aggressive and Thomas active, and they pushed Indiana to a 12-4 run. The Spartans didn’t get within 12 points the rest of the game.

After Jordan Crawford’s acrobatic lay-in made it 78-59 and the game went to a break, point guard Armon Bassett sprinted into Sampson’s arms. Then Sampson grabbed Jamarcus Ellis and Jordan Crawford and held them close to him in a prolonged hug.

A “Kelvin Sampson” chant started in the student section and caught on. Now back out on the court, Bassett waved for the crowd to get louder. Crawford smiled and clapped.

Sampson admitted after the game to hearing the cheers. He said hearing them made him feel good for his wife, Karen, and daughter, Lauren.

He also admitted that this was a special game.

“But, you know, the game’s about these kids,” he said. “IU basketball is so much bigger than one person. I’m happy for them.”

His players pledged their support to him following the game and said they were trying not to think about his possible dismissal.

“We play for coach every game,” Gordon said. “That’s why we all came here. To play for coach. Nothing else.”

Amidst all the turmoil, Indiana got its signature win against a top 10 team and kept in contact with Purdue in the chase for the Big Ten title.

The Boilermakers visit Assembly Hall Tuesday night for the lone meeting between the teams this season.