Indiana Overcomes Turmoil, Escapes Northwestern

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By Paul M. Banks

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An exciting end to emotional week as conference heavyweight gets nearly knocked off

It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Indiana. The nation’s #15 ranked team wasn’t supposed to find themselves down to lowly Northwestern with just under three minutes to go. They never anticipated they would have a very realistic chance of losing in the final 13 seconds. The Hoosiers had just routed then #7 Michigan State and also handed Big 10 leader Purdue just its second conference loss. So how on Earth did they find themselves down by eight in the second half and trailing for about ¾ of the game…to a team with a RPI in the high 200s and a 7-17 (0-13 conference) record?  Where shall I begin? Like it was stated in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” “Begin at the beginning, continue on until you reach the end, then stop.”

Hoosier Cellular Provider?

Hiring a coach, Kelvin Sampson, with a checkered past is where the program’s current turmoil began. His almost megalomaniacal behavior and outrageously egregious disregard for the NCAA rules on cell phone calls and text messaging (“can you hear me now?” Indiana AD Rick Greenspan) landed him in hot water with college basketball’s governing bodies. This forced Indiana University to give him a $750,000 parachute and end his contract effective immediately. After Sampson’s “resignation,” (and I’m using the heaviest air quotes possible here) Six players threatened a boycott and skipped the first practice held by interim coach Dan Dakich. The “Indiana Six,” (not to be confused with Lost’s “Oceanic Six”) was led by senior captain D.J. White. It included guards Armon Bassett, Jordan Crawford and Jamarcus Ellis, and forwards DeAndre Thomas and Brandon McGee. They skipped Dakich’s first practice Friday afternoon, but returned for the Friday night walkthrough. This move was supposedly a protest against the decision to promote Dakich instead of assistant Ray McCallum, whom the players favored. This boycott forced Dakich to have his team managers run Northwestern’s offense in practice. The shorthanded practice session also limited him from effectively utilizing his game plan. It wasn’t until he switched his defense to a “Triangle and 2” that he was effectively able to turn the tide of the game. His practice sessions limited his ability to adequately prepare that strategy. Restating these chain-of-events makes it abundantly clear that this Indiana team was an emotionally irritated and distracted group from the get go.

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Best game I’ve ever covered. In any sport. Period.

Indiana’s 85-82 come from behind victory had everything you could ever ask for in a college game. It will always serve as my “Exhibit A” anytime someone dares to make a case favoring the NBA over college basketball. If sports journalism is a science than this game was my soil sample for scientific analysis, because all the organic properties that make it great were present in this “moral victory” for Northwestern. During this high scoring and exciting affair, anytime a Northwestern player uncorked a three, I braced myself for the sonic eruption set to occur. My reflexes acted like a tuning fork sensing the seismic vibrations of Welsh-Ryan arena. I have never heard a sell out crowd of 8,117 at Northwestern’s home gym be as loud and as animated as it was on this particular Saturday night. Jamarcus and Ellis and D.J. White raised the arms to the masses inciting them to make noise like a basketball version of Hulk Hogan. Although technically a road game for Indiana, it was essentially a neutral site contest. After the Hoosier faithful made themselves heard, the wildcats responded by talking a lead, promoting the northwestern supporters to make the exact same motions inciting the crowd to make noise for NU. It was like judgment time for an act on “Showtime at the Apollo.” As emotions spiked on both sides jawing and chest-bumping between the two squads occurred almost precipitating an on-court brawl. This game had near fights, a dynamite atmosphere, 9 ties, 8 lead changes, and also featured the best individual performance by any Big Ten player this season. Kevin Coble may have missed the entire first half of the season, but his 37 points on 12-16 from the field, 8-8 FT, 5-6 from distance is a season high for any Big Ten player.  The previous high also belonged to Coble when he had 34 against Michigan. Coble’s entrance into “the zone” prompted the Wild Side student section to chant “Kev-in Co-ble…clap-clap-clap-clap-clap.” (Earlier the chant was “Where is Kelvin?”)

By the way, to the ESPN Sportscenter anchor on Saturday who referred to him as “Kyle Coble,” Coble’s leave of absence is a story that has been told this season by ESPN.com, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, Big Ten Network, and many more media outlets. So please get with the program!  

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Cats Nipped

You’ve all seen, heard and read about the thrilling conclusion by now. About how a gusty freshman from the Chicago Public League named Michael “Juice” Thompson took a senior conference player of the year candidate in White (who is also nearly a foot taller than him) to the whole and came up just inches short. A play when the defense most likely expected him to kick it out to Coble for three. Juice also missed on a three when he had another chance to force overtime, but he had a solid game nonetheless. This was truly a “character building” game for the freshman who leads the Big Ten in minutes and ranks third in assists. For Indiana, reserve guard Jordan Crawford had a “just couldn’t miss” night going 6-7 from the field, 4-5 from behind the arc, 5-5 from the line. And the often overlooked point guard Armon Bassett filled the scoring void on a night when White and freshman phenom Eric Gordon weren’t at their very best. By the final minute, the concept of “no cheering in the press box” was no longer even considered within my area. Northwestern’s history as a program is such that any win over a ranked team is considered monumental. This potential victory would have occurred over a program with a fallout being documented by a national media blitz. That would have been Earth-shattering for NU. We all wanted the underdog. Especially a dog that is this much under their opponent. And who didn’t truly want to see a traditional national power go down in the wake of a cheating scandal?  In summation, it wasn’t a perfect night in Wildcat Alley, it was four points shy.
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Comments

  1. where’s the interview with the basketball Judas?

  2. After meeting him in person, I realized he’s actually human and that with him Illinois would only be .500 anyway..of course, he’d prolly avg 26 or 27 a game instead of 21 and Meacham would see diminshed minutes. Plug for upcoming Gordon interview (and a nod to you my backcourt running mate) in post above this

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