In the 2003-04 season, Kelvin Sampson handed the ball to a freshman guard and that team won its first 10 games. Four seasons later, the locale has changed but thanks to Eric Gordon, Sampson could be in line for even better results.
Gordon and No. 8 Indiana meet Sampson’s former point guard Drew Lavender and Xavier on Saturday in the championship game of the Chicago Invitational Challenge.
Lavender averaged 11.3 points and a team-high 3.9 assists as a freshman for Sampson at Oklahoma in 2003-04. Although the Sooners got off to the fast start that season, they finished 20-11 and failed to reach the NCAA tournament.
Lavender transferred to Xavier after playing at Oklahoma for two seasons. One season after Lavender departed, Sampson left for Indiana.
It’s unlikely Sampson’s Hoosiers will have to settle for a NIT berth this season like his Sooners did four years ago. Led by Gordon, Indiana (4-0) is off to its best start since going 8-0 in 2002-03 and the freshman star is showing few signs of slowing down.
Gordon scored 31 points, including 11 straight in one first-half stretch, as Indiana advanced with a 70-57 win over Illinois State on Friday. He is averaging 28.9 points through four games, and is shooting more than 59 percent (16-on-27) on 3-pointers.
The victory didn’t come easy after Indiana won its first three games by an average of nearly 32 points. Illinois State pulled within two midway through the second half before Gordon and fellow freshman Jordan Crawford, who finished with 13 off the bench, helped the Hoosiers prevail.
“I thought I did pretty good. I had a good feeling offensively, especially in the first half,” Gordon said. “It was really physical, especially in the second half. … This is the closest game we’ve had and it was good to grind it out.”
Indiana may play without starting guard Armon Bassett, who suffered a foot injury late in the first half and was sidelined the second half.
“We don’t know his status for tomorrow night,” Sampson said.
Xavier (3-1) won by the same margin Friday, holding off Kent State for a 78-65 victory. Lavender scored six of his 16 points in the final four minutes for the Musketeers, who shot 65.4 percent (17-of-26) in the second half for the victory.
Josh Duncan scored a team-high 20 and Derrick Brown made all five shots to finish with 13 and 10 rebounds for Xavier.
Musketeers starting shooting guard Stanley Burrell will try to bounce back after making 2-of-7 shots for eight points. The Indianapolis native is averaging a career-low 10.3 points as a senior this season.
Indiana is 8-0 all-time against Xavier, including an 80-77 overtime win on Nov. 29, 2003 in the last meeting.