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Slow start can't derail Hoosiers in win over Coppin State

Sunday, December 23, 2007


AP Sports Writer

BLOOMINGTON -- Kelvin Sampson hardly recognized his team Saturday.

There was No. 13 Indiana, the Big Ten's best offensive team, struggling to get shots, struggling to make crisp passes, struggling to play defense in the first half against Coppin State.

After 20 minutes, the Hoosiers finally got into the game. The result: D.J. White had 21 points and eight rebounds, and freshman Eric Gordon scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, helping Indiana overcame its sluggish start to beat the Eagles 73-46.

"I thought the second half was really good," Sampson said. "The first half, I think we were still recovering from that 6-hour bus ride from Marquette. Oh wait, that was the other team. My bad."

It would have been hard to blame Sampson for making the joke.

After all, Coppin State (3-10) was supposed to be the fatigued team after losing 89-42 on Friday night at No. 10 Marquette. The Eagles then bused from Milwaukee to Bloomington in hopes of ending a seven-game losing streak and a four-game streak in which they failed to score 45 points.

Instead, it was the Hoosiers who were unfocused and thinking about a break.

Sampson said the pregame locker room talk was rooted more around planned trips home for the holidays than basketball, and it showed on the court. The Hoosiers shot a dismal 28 percent from the field, including 12.5 percent from 3-point range, in the first half against an undersized and overmatched opponent.

Even Gordon and White, two of the Big Ten's most consistent scorers, had trouble.

Gordon missed all six of his first-half shots, the first time the freshman failed to make a basket in any half he's played this season. White, meanwhile, was limited to two first-half shots despite a significant size advantage.

And there was no secret about what was wrong with Indiana (10-1).

"Like Coach said, the conversations happen when people haven't been home in a while or whatever," White said. "The first half we started slow and then came together. But that's on us, that's on me since I'm a captain. We can't let it happen again."

Sampson grew so frustrated with his team's lack of effort that during a timeout with 6:57 left in the first half, he screamed at his players in front of the Hoosiers bench and pulled forward DeAndre Thomas out of the game.

His pleas didn't change much as the Hoosiers staggered to a 28-26 lead.

"The first half was a lesson for us," Sampson said. "I'm not sure that, in some ways, it won't help us somewhere down the road."

Just not Saturday.

Indiana appeared to take control with a 9-0 run midway through the first half, but Coppin State answered with six straight points to get back within two -- the same margin they trailed by at halftime.

Eagles coach Ron "Fang" Mitchell went to the locker room hopeful his overworked players had something left after enduring a brutal back-to-back stretch more suited to NBA teams.

"Our guys understood what the situation was and they were willing to deal with it," Mitchell said. "I was very proud of them the first half but I've never been a coach who believed in moral victories. It said a lot because they fought the whole way, it just wasn't enough."

Tywain McKee led Coppin State with 16 points. No other players reached double figures.

The momentum switched quickly in the second half. Gordon opened with a 3 and sparked a 20-4 run that finally put the Hoosiers in control 48-30 with 12:40 to go. Coppin State never challenged again even though Indiana was short-handed yet again.

Starting point guard Armon Bassett missed his third straight game after being suspended by Sampson for violating team rules, and swingman A.J. Ratliff, who missed the first 10 games after being declared academically ineligible, sat out after spraining an ankle in practice.

Despite the poor start, Sampson did move closer to Branch McCracken's school record for most consecutive wins at the start of a career. The Hoosiers have won 25 straight at home, and Sampson is 23-0 since coming to Bloomington last season.

Even if this one looked ugly.

"There were a lot of positives in the second half," Sampson said. "The first half, there were a lot of lessons learned. You know we had seven practices this week, so we may have been more tired than Coppin."

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