Finishing Strong

Eric Gordon knew the frustration would come pouring from the stands, so he really wasn't surprised even if he looked a little shellshocked in his first game at Illinois.

Indiana's star freshman was booed, taunted and cursed. He was sloppy early on, giving Illinois fans something to cheer, but came through late for the Hoosiers.

Gordon hit a clutch 3-pointer late in regulation and Armon Bassett scored 11 of his 16 points in the second overtime to lead No. 14 Indiana to a 83-79 victory against Illinois Thursday night.

Gordon was jeered throughout the night for reneging on an early verbal commitment to Illinois and committed what looked like a costly turnover in the second overtime. He also hit a game-tying 3 with 23 seconds left in the second half, scored all but one of his 19 points after halftime and shrugged off the taunts.

``I wasn't really worried about it,'' he said. ``I was just trying to get a win. This was a big road win for us. We have to move on to the next game.''

Illinois' Calvin Brock had just converted a runner, cutting Indiana's lead to 79-76, when Gordon got called for a 10-second violation with 26 seconds left in the second OT. But the Illini's Demetri McCamey, who scored 31 points, dribbled with ball off his knee and out of bounds.

Bassett then hit two free throws, and he converted two more to make it 83-79 with five seconds left following a 3-pointer by McCamey.

With that Indiana (19-3, 8-1 Big Ten) could exhale.

``Our top players have got a lot of confidence and play with a lot of swagger, and this is really a good win for us and a step forward,'' Bassett said.

The Hoosiers, who trailed by 12 early in the second half, have won two straight since back-to-back losses against Connecticut and Wisconsin. And they earned their first victory at Illinois since 1999 even though Gordon was a mess early on.

Orange-clad fans wasted no time letting him and Hoosiers coach Kelvin Sampson hear it. Students along the baseline near the Indiana bench booed and held up cell phones as Sampson approached. The coach ran into trouble with the NCAA for improper calls to recruits while was at Oklahom.

Chants of ``Liar! Liar!'' - and others not quite so friendly - directed toward Gordon echoed through the arena.

The Illini's Chester Frazier then knocked him back with a chest bump during pregame introductions.

All that drama before tipoff.

``I thought it was more of a hyped-up, friendly bump - nothing malicious,'' Sampson said.

There was plenty of malice from the crowd, though.

The Big Ten's leading scorer, Gordon missed all four shots in the first half before starting the second with a 3-pointer.

Fans booed every time he touched the ball and cheered every mistake. The Illini (10-14, 2-9) gave them plenty to cheer too, for the first 30 minutes.

The Hoosiers led 60-59 after Gordon hit both ends of a one-and-one with 2:04 left in regulation.

Illinois regained the lead when McCamey raced for a layup with 56 seconds left, and things were looking good for Illinois after Lance Stemler missed a corner jumper. The Brock grabbed the rebound, and Frazier hit two free throws to make it 63-60 with 40 seconds left.

But Gordon's 3 tied it.

The Illini's Shaun Pruitt then missed the front end of a one-and-one with 4 seconds remaining in regulation.

In the first overtime, back-to-back 3-pointers by Jordan Crawford (18 points) gave Indiana a 69-66 lead, but McCamey buried one of his own to tie it with just under a minute left.

The Hoosiers' Jamarcus Ellis missed two free throws with 29.5 seconds left, and the Illini's Pruitt missed two with two seconds left, sending it into another OT.

``Sooner or later, something is going to go right for our group,'' Illini coach Bruce Weber said.

McCamey said: ``We had our chances.''

The wild game took some of the focus off the Gordon subplot.

The Illini are in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 1999, and many fans blame Gordon for that.

The Indianapolis native gave Illinois an oral commitment as a high school junior but changed his mind after Sampson replaced Mike Davis at Indiana.

Fans and some coaches even questioned whether Sampson had followed proper protocol by contacting Gordon without talking to Weber first.

On the court, Gordon's transition to college has been seemless - his struggles in the first half notwithstanding.

The explosiveness and touch from the perimeter simply were missing early on, and the crowd pounced on him, chanting: ``In your head! In your head!''

``Coach just told me I had to settle down,'' Gordon said. ``Usually, when I go too fast, I get a turnover, and it's just about myself. I just needed to handle that on my own.''

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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