Penn St. 71, Indiana 68
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP)—Home or away, Indiana coach Mike Davis just can’t escape rumors about his job security.
After Penn State beat the Hoosiers 71-68 on Wednesday night, the embattled Davis sidestepped questions about a report that he would step down after this season.
“I’m not answering anything about my job,” Davis said in a low, raspy voice after a reporter asked him about a story posted Wednesday night on SI.com, citing sources in the athletic department that he would resign after the season.
Davis said he didn’t know about that story until he was asked about it on his post-game radio show.
“If I say something, I say the wrong thing,” Davis said, whose team lost for the sixth time in seven games. “I just need to keep my mouth shut and focus on my basketball team.”
The Nittany Lions (12-11, 4-8 Big Ten) took over late despite some missed free throws. Ben Luber hit a jumper, then Geary Claxton nailed a 3 with 3:46 left to give Penn State a 70-65 lead.
Lewis Monroe hit one of two free throws to narrow the lead to 71-68, then Luber missed two free throws with 2 seconds left. But Marshall Strickland’s desperation 3 came after the buzzer and hit off the rim, and the Penn State fans stormed the court.
But the attention was squarely on Davis in his first game back on the bench after missing a game with flu-like symptoms amid rampant speculation about his job security. Indiana (13-9, 5-6) fell out of the Top 25 this week for the first time this season.
The slide has caused unrest among a vocal contingent of Hoosier fans calling for Davis’ ouster.
Roderick Wilmont said Davis didn’t address the speculation to the team in the locker room, and the rumors about the coach’s job weren’t a distraction for the Hoosiers.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on,” Wilmont said on his way out of the Bryce Jordan Center. “I’m here to play.”
Claxton had 20 points and nine rebounds for Penn State, while Travis Parker had 21 points and seven rebounds.
It was Penn State’s first win since upsetting then-No. 6 Illinois on the road on Feb. 4 in a game that ended the Illini’s 33-game home winning streak. The Nittany Lions had lost two straight at home since then.
“I’m happy for these kids,” Nittany Lions coach Ed DeChellis said. “They’ve really worked hard this past week and it was important for us to get the good feeling back.”
DeChellis didn’t want to comment on the Davis rumors.
“That’s not my deal,” he said. “I’m focused on Penn State.”
Davis, in his sixth season since replacing Bob Knight, coached Indiana to the NCAA title game in 2002.
Before the game, Davis sat in a chair in a hallway leading to the court and in front of the media room for at least 20 minutes. In a low voice, he declined to answer questions about the recent drama over his coaching status.
He spent a lot of the first half of the Penn State game on the bench with his hand on his chin, but was pacing the sidelines and was more animated after halftime.
When asked Monday by reporters to explain why Indiana fans have been reluctant to fully embrace him, the coach suggested it was because he wasn’t a graduate of the school.
Davis then tried to quiet speculation on Tuesday by saying he had no plans to quit this season. He also said that his job status had become too big a distraction as the Hoosiers prepare for the final weeks of the regular season.
Robert Vaden led Indiana with 17 points.
The Nittany Lions erased an early eight-point deficit and took a 26-20 lead on a free throw by Claxton.
But the Lions went cold from the field and the Hoosiers started hitting from outside. Sophomore reserve A.J. Ratliff made two 3s in the waning minutes of the first half before Strickland dunked just before halftime to give Indiana a 35-31 lead.
Ratliff scored as many points in the first half (11) than in his previous four games combined. A projected starter at the beginning of the season, Ratliff missed the first three games of the season with a broken right thumb and had struggled since then.
It doesn’t get easier for Indiana, which is at No. 10 Illinois on Sunday.
Davis said he wasn’t concerned about the job speculation and was focusing on his squad.
“These guys are going to be fine,” he said. “They are hurting in the locker room because we lost the game. But I’m glad to see them hurt. I’m glad to see them show some emotion. … I see a lot of positives out of it.”