Indiana's Eric Gordon, top, battles for a loose ball with Ohio State's David Lighty. Gordon scored 15 points.
Terry Gilliam / AP Enlarge
COLUMBUS - Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson has grown tired of the shots critics are lobbing at his program for a soft schedule.
"If this isn't a quality win, then we may not get any," a smiling Sampson said after D.J. White scored 21 points and had 13 rebounds and Eric Gordon hit a number of big shots to lead the 14th-ranked Hoosiers past Ohio State 59-53 yesterday.
It was the first signature win for the Hoosiers (20-3, 9-1 Big Ten) - much maligned by TV analysts for playing a light schedule - against a team higher than No. 49 in the RPI ratings. The Buckeyes (16-8, 7-4) came in at No. 32.
The Hoosiers took their cue from White, who set the tone inside at both ends.
"I lead by example, basically," White said after his 18th double-double this season. "All you can do is go out, play hard and hope they can follow you."
Gordon finished with 15 points, hitting four free throws in the final minute to keep Ohio State at bay. He cited Thursday night's 83-79 double-overtime win at Illinois and the victory over the Buckeyes for signs that the Hoosiers are peaking at the right time.
"We're improving," he said. "The win at Illinois was a big win for us. To come here against a good Ohio State team and win, that's also a good win."
Jordan Crawford contributed seven assists without a turnover and also had six rebounds to go with eight points for the Hoosiers, who won their third in a row and remained in a tie for the conference lead.
Kosta Koufos had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Buckeyes, and Jon Diebler added 14 points.
Ohio State, in dire need of a marquee win of its own to prop up its NCAA tournament hopes, was its own worst enemy. The
Buckeyes had three air-ball 3-pointers down the stretch - all by freshmen - after they had pared a 12-point deficit to six or fewer points in the waning moments.
"Playing a team like Indiana, a great basketball team, for whatever reason we just didn't make the plays we needed to make," Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. "They [the Hoosiers] made the plays down the stretch."
Jamar Butler, fifth in the Big Ten in scoring (Gordon is first, White second) coming in, was limited to four points on 2-of-8 shooting. He did have six assists, but misfired on all five of his shots behind the arc.
The constants for the Hoosiers - who shot only one free throw until the final 30.4 seconds - were their version of Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, White and Gordon.
The Buckeyes cut into a 10-point deficit to draw to 31-29 in the opening four minutes of the second half. But then Gordon drove the lane for a nifty hesitation layup, shifting hands in mid-air, White hit a 10-foot turnaround jumper, Armon Bassett made a 3-pointer and Kyle Taber, making only his second start of the season, had a tip-in to push the lead to 40-29.
Koufos and Diebler scored Ohio State's next 13 points, pulling the Buckeyes to within 46-42 on Koufos' spin move around White with eight minutes left. But the two-time defending Big Ten champs never got closer.
Each time they got within four points, the Hoosiers had an answer.
"We'd make a shot and then they'd go down and score and put us in a hole again," Diebler said. "They just made plays at the end that we didn't."
Sampson inserted Taber in the starting lineup because Jamarcus Ellis and Bassett were late for a team film session on Saturday. They still did their part on a day when everyone had a hand in the win.
The Hoosiers showed no ill effects from the emotional, exhausting marathon just three days earlier at Illinois. If anything, they looked fresher and more energetic throughout the game than Ohio State did.
Sampson said it was all an example of maturity and experience.
"There's kind of a metamorphosis with your team," Sampson said. "In November, December and January, this was kind of a slow-developing team, by anybody's standards. But we're starting to get better."
That's bad news for the rest of the Big Ten - and the critics.