BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) -- Embattled coach Kelvin Sampson may always cherish Saturday night's victory over Michigan State (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP).
It meant even more to Indiana basketball.
Eric Gordon scored 28 points and broke Mike Woodson's school scoring record for freshmen, keeping the Hoosiers (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 13 AP) in the Big Ten title chase with an 80-61 victory over the Spartans.
"Yes, I think so," Sampson said when asked if this win meant more to him than others. "But you know, these games are about these kids. Basketball is so much bigger than any one person, and the game is always about the players."
It would have been hard to tell this week when Sampson's NCAA troubles overshadowed basketball.
On Wednesday, the NCAA accused the Hoosiers coach of five major rules violations, including providing false and misleading information to investigators. On Friday, university officials announced it would conduct a second internal investigation, which is supposed to be completed by next Friday.
Fans refused to wait that long to voice their opinions.
Supporters waved signs that read "Save Sampson" and "If O.J. is innocent, so is Sampson." Proponents of firing Sampson countered with placards reading "Sampson get off the phone" and "Every IU student prefers Knight, see ya Sampson," a reference to former Indiana coach Bob Knight.
Others could be overheard talking about the risky move Indiana made when it hired the former Oklahoma coach two years ago. And for the second straight home game, Sampson drew more boos than cheers during pregame introductions.
"There's no doubt what he's done has tainted the program and we don't want him to be part of it," said Lisa Adams, an Indiana sophomore from Northbrook, Ill.
Yet the same people disgusted by the allegations, offered unified support for the Hoosiers on a night they desperately needed it.
With a shot at winning their first Big Ten title since 1993, still missing a signature victory on their resume and having endured four days of tortuous speculation about Sampson's future at Indiana, the Hoosiers finally turned it around.
Gordon provided the lift after senior forward D.J. White landed awkwardly on his left leg and rolled out of bounds with 4:55 left in the first half. White, the Big Ten's top rebounder and No. 2 scorer, eventually was helped to the locker room and didn't return to the sidelines until late in the second half.
Sampson said he would undergo an MRI on Sunday, but team doctors did not believe White sustained ligament damage.
"I think when a kid gets his knee injured, he's a little afraid, and he was a little afraid at halftime," Sampson said. "He said 'Coach, it doesn't feel right.' The doctor said 'I don't think we should play him,' and I said, 'I agree. If it doesn't feel right we should hold him out. He's too valuable to us.'"
Gordon and DeAndre Thomas picked up the slack.
The freshman guard took over on offense, finishing 9-of-15 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free throw line. He also broke Woodson's mark of 500 points, which had stood since 1976-77, and came within a basket of becoming the first Indiana freshman with four 30-point games in a season. Gordon has now scored 520 points.
Thomas produced his best game of the year, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds and gave Indiana (21-4, 9-2) enough muscle inside to contend with the Spartans' tough rebounders.
It was the perfect prescription for the ailing Hoosiers.
"I went, 'Aw, man,' " Thomas said of White's injury. "But you've got to play. If something happens to him, we all have to pick our game up."
What upset coach Tom Izzo most, though, was the Spartans' continuing trouble with turnovers. This time, it helped Indiana rally from an early 15-4 deficit to charge ahead 37-26 late in the first half. After that, the Spartans were never close enough to give Indiana a serious scare.
The Spartans have lost two straight.
"We shot 60 percent in the first half and gave up four baskets on breakaway dunks because of the 12 turnovers," Izzo said. "We were not going to turn it over in the second half and we started out with three turnovers in a row. It is inexcusable, and if I were a Michigan State fan, I would be very disappointed in the coach because I keep saying the same thing and it doesn't change."
The Hoosiers wasted no time in extending their 41-33 halftime lead.
A 12-4 run gave Indiana a 57-41 lead with 13:43 left, and while the Hoosiers led by as much as 19, the Spartans never got closer than 12.
By game's end, the biggest question again surrounded Sampson.
The early boos, led by the student section, were drowned out by cheers as they repeatedly chanted his name.
And while Sampson tried to deflect the attention from himself, again declining to answer questions about the allegations after the victory, Indiana's players were clearly on his side.
"We play for coach every game," Gordon said. "I think that's why we're all here. We came here to play for coach."