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February 26, 2008
The Hoosiers' high-profile coaching change again overshadowed basketball Tuesday night, and Indiana fans showered Dakich with a victory stroll after No. 12 Indiana beat Ohio State 72-69 - even though Dakich didn't think he deserved it.
"This isn't about my stamp or anything like that," he said afterward. "This is about these players and what they had in front of them before last Friday."
At stake for the Hoosiers (24-4, 13-2 Big Ten) is their first possible outright Big Ten title since 1993, a high seed in the NCAA tournament and, of course, a sentimental finish for former coach Kelvin Sampson, who resigned amid NCAA allegations of five major rules infractions on Friday.
Dakich was chosen his interim successor and after avoiding a potential player boycott Saturday, won at Northwestern.
But after 410 career games as an assistant coach on the Indiana bench for Sampson and Bob Knight, Dakich found himself in new territory Tuesday night. He was greeted with a standing ovation when he walked onto the floor and heard loud cheers when public address announcer Chuck Crabb called his name during pregame introductions.
It was a stark contrast to the torrent of boos Sampson heard during the previous three games at Assembly Hall, and changes were evident all around.
Kent Benson, a star on Indiana's undefeated national championship team in 1976, made his first appearance of the season after promising not to come back to Assembly Hall until Sampson was gone.
"They made the right decision getting rid of Sampson," Benson said. "He should have never been here in the first place and now we can move ahead with the integrity and character that Indiana basketball is all about."
Little changed on the court, though.
Armon Bassett scored 23 points, hitting four 3-pointers to lead Indiana. Eric Gordon, the Big Ten's top scorer, finished with 17 points and six rebounds despite shooting just 4-of-16. D.J. White added 16 points and eight rebounds despite fighting cramps and Indiana won its fourth straight, all coming since the university released the NCAA report on Feb. 13.
Several players again wore the initials "KS" on their sneakers, yet the crowd was filled with images of the tumult that has rocked this storied program over the past two weeks.
One fan waved a sign that read "Dan Dakich 4 Prez." Others held placards that read "KS" and "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying." A woman even got caught looking ahead, voicing her opinion for Dakich's successor by waving a sign in front of Ohio State's Thad Matta near the end of the halftime break. It read "What's The Matta? Hire Thad."
After enduring the circus-like environment of the past two weeks, the Hoosiers just wanted to play basketball.
"We love coach Sampson and we wish he was out there with us," Bassett said. "But we're right up there at the top of the Big Ten and we can't do nothing but get used to it."
The Buckeyes made that very clear in Tuesday night's physical slugfest.
Kosta Koufos scored 21 points, Evan Turner had 13 and Jamar Butler and Othello Hunter each had 12, not quite enough to pull the upset. Ohio State (17-11, 8-7) has now lost three straight and five-of-seven, but fought back from a dismal opening to nearly pull the upset.
"Indiana made the plays tonight, please don't take anything away from them," Matta said. "They have a great basketball team and they got the tip-ins and hit the 3 in he corner. I think that was the big difference there."
Initially, it didn't look like it would be that close.
Indiana broke out to a 10-3 lead behind a strong early rebounding effort and still led 30-21 at halftime when the Buckeyes shot just 31 percent.
In the second half, Koufos gave the Buckeyes hope. He opened the second half by scoring the Buckeyes' first seven points, then hit another basket with 15:13 left to get Ohio State within 34-32.
The Hoosiers answered with five straight points to make it 39-32, and then fended off Ohio State's charge down the stretch by making 10-of-12 free throws to finally give Dakich his first win in Bloomington.
"I'm just happy we won," Dakich said as he described the scene walking into the locker room. "I'm aware Indiana fans love, live and die with Indiana basketball. I'm also aware Indiana fans are hurting about that. So I did think about that walking off."