In the wake of a scandal involving accusations of recruiting violations, second-year Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson’s future in Bloomington is hanging in the balance.
Adding to Sampson’s stress, the timing couldn’t have been much worse, as the 13th-ranked Hoosiers continue the toughest stretch of their Big Ten schedule on Saturday when they host No. 10 Michigan State.
This is the second of three straight games against ranked teams for Indiana, which hasn’t beaten a Top 25 team all season, but that’s probably not the first thing on Sampson’s mind after university president Michael McRobbie held a press conference Friday regarding the coach’s future.
This week, an NCAA report accused Sampson of five “major” recruiting violations, including illegal phone calls and presenting false information to the NCAA. McRobbie said Friday that Indiana athletic director Rick Greenspan had a week to recommend what action the school should take toward Sampson.
“Let there be no doubt, these are serious allegations of misconduct,” McRobbie said.
Sampson, who has denied the allegations, had similar issues at Oklahoma, where he coached from 1994-2006 and was charged with making 577 illegal recruiting calls.
The scandal originally came to light on Wednesday, just hours before the Hoosiers’ three-game winning streak was snapped at home by No. 15 Wisconsin in a 68-66 loss. After winning 29 straight home games, they’ve now lost two of their last three at Assembly Hall.
Indiana (20-4, 9-2 Big Ten) had a season-low five turnovers, freshman star Eric Gordon had 23 points and the Hoosiers led until the final seconds, but they lost on Wisconsin’s banked-in 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds left.
Indiana’s players said the issues surrounding Sampson were not a distraction.
“Nothing outside of us hurt our team,” said forward D.J. White, who had 17 points and eight rebounds. “We were a family tonight. Tonight didn’t have anything to do with anything, we just didn’t win.”
The Hoosiers’ only two previous games against Top 25 squads were losses to the Badgers, though they also lost non-conference games to Connecticut and Xavier, both of which are now ranked.
After facing the Spartans (20-4, 8-3), Indiana hosts No. 19 and Big Ten leader Purdue on Tuesday.
Michigan State fell 60-54 to the Boilermakers on Tuesday for its second consecutive road loss and second in three games overall. The Spartans are 2-3 on the road in Big Ten play.
Against Purdue, the Spartans shot 46.7 percent to the Boilermakers’ 37.5 percent and got 20 points from freshman Kalin Lucas, but didn’t make a 3-pointer and had 19 turnovers.
“The turnovers were ridiculous,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I’m giving Purdue credit on some of them, but when you hand the ball to the guy and he goes down and makes a layup, I can’t give him credit for that.”
The Spartans’ two leading scorers, Raymar Morgan and Drew Neitzel, were both held scoreless in the first half as the team fell behind 34-18 at the break.
“That hurts a little bit,” said Neitzel, who’s averaging 13.7 points - more than four below last season’s average. “We just couldn’t get it going. Our two leading scorers carry the load offensively sometimes, and we just couldn’t get it done.”
Neitzel had 21 points in a 70-55 win over Northwestern last Saturday, but has shot a combined 3-of-17 with 12 total points in Michigan State’s last two road games.
The Spartans have lost their last three visits to Bloomington, including a 73-51 defeat last season, but they beat Indiana 66-58 in East Lansing last February in the teams’ most recent meeting.