What a week on, off court for Hoosiers

What a week on, off court for Hoosiers

by Doug Wilson, H-T sports editor

February 20, 2008

Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson and forward D.J. White embrace near the bench after White fouled out of Tuesday night’s game against Purdue. The senior had 19 points and 15 rebounds in the Hoosiers’ 77-68 win. Chris Howell | Herald-Times
From the Feb. 20, 2008 Bloomington Herald-Times

Kelvin Sampson wrapped both arms around D.J. White as the crowd at Assembly Hall celebrated Indiana’s second-straight win over a ranked opponent.

It was the kind of moment Hoosier basketball fans will remember — the final seconds of a victory over a smart, scrappy Purdue team to move within a half-game of the Big Ten lead.

“Just like football,” a happy crowd chanted.

It was a win that once again demonstrated what could be at Indiana during the upcoming years if Kelvin Sampson isn’t fired for NCAA infractions.

Sampson and four of his players who were interviewed after the game insisted they haven’t thought or talked much about whether he’ll be fired. The focus is on basketball, they said, and winning games.

“That’s the last thing on our mind right now,” D.J. White said. “There’s no distractions that can bother us.”

By the end of the week, we’ll know more about Sampson’s future at IU.

An ESPN report Tuesday cited an unidentified source close to the situation in saying what many in Bloomington have been saying for several days — that the most likely action is that IU will suspend Sampson this week, as his contract requires, as part of a recommendation by athletic director Rick Greenspan to fire him.

If so, this is a tragic week for the fans who have watched Indiana win four of five games in its most important stretch of the regular season.

“I knew it was a really tough stretch,” Sampson said. “Our goal was to go 5-0 and we came within a 3-point bank shot of doing just that. I think that tells a lot about this group. I’m really proud of them.”

Indiana made too many mistakes in Tuesday’s game with guards Jamarcus Ellis, Eric Gordon and Armon Bassett combining for 16 turnovers.

But by dominating the boards, 46-30, holding Purdue to 34.7 percent shooting and hitting 30 of 34 free throws, Indiana managed to overcome the Boilermakers taking 30 more shots from the field, 72 to 42.

We didn’t know if D.J. White could even play after hyperextending his left knee three days earlier. All he did was turn in another Big Ten Player of the Year performance with 19 points and 15 rebounds.

That’s one tragedy averted. A serious knee injury for White would have been just wrong after all he’s been through at IU and the way he’s played and led the team his senior season.

The Hoosiers got crucial shots from Bassett, who was 4-of-4 on 3-pointers, and Kyle Taber continued to excel in his newfound role of being a guy who helps make IU’s offense go with his picks and movement.

“It looked to me like Indiana was pretty damn good against Michigan State without D.J. White,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “So that just shows you how good of a team they have. They can beat a team like Michigan State the way they did without him and to be able to play obviously with him like they have done all year. They’ve got a lot of weapons.”

Purdue, the Big Ten leader in 3-point shooting, had a terrible shooting night, but we saw what the Boilermakers will be over the next several years with the play of freshmen Robbie Hummel, Scott Martin and E’Twaun Moore, who all scored in double figures. Despite that youth, Purdue made just five turnovers.

Even if it’s true that Indiana’s players aren’t thinking this week about the future of Sampson, Hoosier fans certainly are. They’ve seen a great stretch of basketball lately, and particularly the past two games.

I’ve received quite a few e-mails from fans the last few days saying it wouldn’t be right to suspend Sampson now while the team is playing so well.

But that clearly shouldn’t be a part of the decision-making process. IU’s administration needs to make its call based on the off-the-court actions of Sampson and his staff, not on the excitement of two big wins.