BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP)—Kelvin Sampson saw enough of Indiana’s immaturity last weekend.
So on Tuesday night, he changed the plan. The Hoosiers coach told his players to attack Georgia Tech’s full-court pressure relentlessly, no matter the consequences.
With nifty drives from guards Eric Gordon and Jamarcus Ellis, No. 15 Indiana finally got past Georgia Tech 83-79 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
“We knew we had to come out and attack and keep attacking,” said Lance Stemler, who had 15 points and three 3-pointers for Indiana. “We just never quit.”
After losing for the first time Saturday night, the Hoosiers had little choice.
Sampson, who had planned to redshirt backup forward Mike White, wanted White’s experience on the court and inserted him for the first time all season during the first half. The coach was already down two players because freshman Jordan Crawford drew a three-game suspension for violating team rules and swingman Brandon McGee was out sick.
Eventually, it all worked out.
Gordon, the Big Ten’s top scorer, finished with 29 points and made 13 of 16 free throws. Ellis scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half after he started going hard to the basket, and senior D.J. White had 18 points and 14 rebounds.
Indiana (5-1) won its 21st consecutive regular-season home game and gave the Big Ten its first win in this year’s conference showdown with the ACC.
“It was just something I saw,” Ellis said. “No one was getting back and they were trying to pressure us, so we just kept going to the basket.”
But the game hardly went according to the script.
Indiana came in with the best shooting team in the Big Ten, while Georgia Tech was allowing the highest point total (78.6) in the ACC.
Some expected it to be a rout, but the Yellow Jackets never allowed that to happen.
Lewis Clinch scored 18 points, Anthony Morrow and Gani Lawal each had 17 and Jeremis Smith finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds as Georgia Tech (3-3) forced 17 turnovers and stayed close all night.
“We’re going to use this as a learning point,” Clinch said. “We’re going to get out with the bad and bring in more good.”
Almost as soon as Sampson looked at the tape, he knew what the Hoosiers had to do. He wanted his guards to push the ball, take advantage of openings, find open teammates and draw fouls.
At times, the strategy proved flawless, much to the dismay of Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt.
“We didn’t guard them off the dribble,” Hewitt said. “When you don’t guard off the dribble, you give up 38 free throws.”
But as much as Sampson wanted to change things, he still had to contend with sluggish starts to open both halves.
Indiana committed five turnovers in the game’s first five minutes and allowed Georgia Tech to build a 26-18 lead before the Hoosiers got into a rhythm. At the start of the second half, the Yellow Jackets scored the first nine points, wiping out a 38-34 halftime deficit and again forcing the Hoosiers to come back.
Gordon, not at his best Tuesday, and Ellis delivered with their shifty moves and strong drives.
“I know I was trying to force some things tonight,” Gordon said. “But I tried to adjust to it and did a lot better in the second half.”
With the Hoosiers trailing 43-38 early in the second half, Gordon finally drove for an Indiana basket to end a 4:27 scoring drought. That helped Indiana get back on track, and when Ellis drew a foul and made two free throws on another drive with 8:50 left, the Hoosiers had finally retaken the lead at 54-53.
Over the next three minutes, drives by Gordon and Ellis produced baskets and opened things up for their teammates. Stemler hit two 3s and D.J. White had an emphatic dunk, a flurry that ended with the Hoosiers leading 68-60 with 5:19 to go.
They didn’t stop there. The Hoosiers continued to draw fouls and, even without a basket over the final 3:38, they made enough free throws to hang on.
Just as Sampson had drawn it up.
“With the pressure we had tonight, we just kept emphasizing during the TV timeouts to attack it,” Sampson said. “We’re at our best when we’re in attack mode, and I thought we attacked the gaps and kicked. We looked like a basketball team tonight.”