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November 12, 2007
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. ? Indiana fans welcomed Eric Gordon by chanting his name Monday night. The highly touted freshman responded with an opening act that lived up to the billing.
Gordon finished with 33 points, the most ever by an Indiana player in his college debut, and it was his play at both ends of the court that eventually helped the eighth-ranked Hoosiers beat Chattanooga 99-79 in their season opener.
"If he plays like he did tonight, we'll be OK," coach Kelvin Sampson said, drawing laughter. "He's going to play hard every night, and the thing I like is that he practices at the same pace every day. When I was at Michigan State, Magic Johnson was like that. There's a reason those guys are good."
While the comparisons to Johnson are premature, Gordon proved to everyone Monday why he was considered one of the highest-rated recruits a year ago. He made spectacular plays on offense, delivered a shutdown performance on defense and eclipsed the previous debut record that belonged to former NBA player George McGinnis, who scored 26 points against Eastern Michigan on Dec. 1, 1970.
Gordon's final line: 9-of-15 from the field, 7-of-11 on 3-pointers, six rebounds, four assists.
Numbers didn't tell the whole story, though. He ignited Indiana's second-half charge and prompted Mocs coach John Shulman to admit he couldn't do anything on offense or defense to stop Gordon.
"This is not an easy atmosphere for anyone to come in, especially on Eric Gordon freshman night," Shulman said. "They should have given out posters. I'd get mine autographed. He was terrific. I had no answer."
Gordon's teammates took advantage of his presence, too.
Senior forward D.J. White, who spent most of last season trying to fight through extra defenders, finished with 17 points. Point guard Armon Bassett scored 20 points and the Hoosiers' other big freshman, Jordan Crawford, had 13.
The 99 points was the sixth-highest mark in a season opener in school history, and the Mocs (1-1) simply couldn't keep up with the pace.
Kevin Bridgewaters led Chattanooga, scoring 14 points in the first half before getting shut out for the final 20 minutes when Sampson asked Gordon to defend him. Kevin Goffney scored 13 points and Nicchaeus Doaks had 12.
"We couldn't get off ball screens and he disrupted everything we did offensively," Shulman said of Gordon. "He was the difference at both ends."
The night was far from perfect.
After Indiana (1-0) used a 12-3 run to take a 29-18 lead midway through the first half, Hoosiers fans expected a rout.
Instead, Chattanooga rallied with a 12-0 spurt to take a 44-40 lead with 3:39 left in the half and it led 50-46 at halftime. As Indiana left the court, there was a smattering of boos.
Gordon and White changed that early in the second half.
White grabbed a rebound and dunked, and then Gordon, trailing on a breakaway, made a highlight-reel one-handed slam that brought the crowd to its feet.
"It's just two points," Gordon said. "But you love to get the crowd going."
The Mocs were within 65-61 with 11:30 to go.
Gordon's long 3-pointer in the middle of a 13-6 run got the crowd revved again and when it was over the Hoosiers finally control with a 78-67 lead with 9:12 left.
Indiana endured only one real scare after that.
With 6:09 to go, a jumping White was undercut by a Mocs player. White crashed hard to the floor and teammates quickly gathered around him, some holding his bleeding head off the ground.
A few minutes later, with a towel on his cut left eye, White gave fans a thumbs-up as he was helped to the locker room.
Sampson said White needed stitches to close the gash, and Bassett indicated he would likely be OK to play in the Hoosiers' next game, Sunday against Longwood.
"D.J.'s fine, he's going to be all right," Bassett said. "He feels a little tweety-birdish right now."
But it was the coming out party that Gordon and the Indiana fans had envisioned since last fall, when Gordon took back his commitment from Illinois and signed with the Hoosiers.
"I thought I played pretty good," he said. "I just tried to step up in different situations and so did a lot of other players on our team."
For more coverage of Indiana, visit InsideIndiana.com.