Darrel White broke into the Utah State starting lineup and broke out of a shell of sorts, sparking the Aggies to a much-needed 80-50 victory over Detroit in Wednesday night's opening round of the Hoosier Classic.
After struggling through spotty preseason performances, the 6-foot-6 junior forward from South High and Dixie College responded to the starting call by going 6-for-9 from the floor and 8-for-9 from the line for 20 points as well as game-highs of 10 rebounds and five steals."He needed that for his confidence and we needed that from him," said teammate Reid Newey.
USU Coach Kohn Smith agreed. "Darrel gives us quickness on the break and rebounds well, and I thought he played pretty good defense."
The soft-spoken White took his new assignment in stride. "I wanted to go out and play good defense and do the things to help the team win."
Ah, yes, win - something 2-6 Utah State hadn't done in five previous games. How bad did the Aggies need a victory? "Real bad - you can't put a value on how badly we needed to win," said Newey, who scored a game-high 22 points, including five second-half three-pointers.
While the Aggies ending their victory drought is news enough, the rest of the story is that their triumph enables them to face Indiana in the championship game Thursday night (7 p.m. MST). Yes, the USU-IU battle does pit Smith, the former Indiana assistant of six seasons, against his ex-boss, Hoosier Coach Bobby Knight, in an expected pairing that has been well-documented both here and in Utah.
Smith said he has "total respect" for a powerhouse program that he knows almost too well. "I'd just as soon play anybody other than Coach (Knight) because of the feelings I have. But I'm happy for the kids for their chance to play against such a team and tradition as Indiana."
With the triumph, USU extended Detroit's losing streak to nine games. Darian McKinney and Calvin Winfield paced the Titans' scoring with 11 and 10 points, repespectively, but their combined 9-of-27 shooting from the floor mirrored the Titans' troubled 33-percent for the game - only 27 percent in the second half.
The first half scoring went in streaks, as Utah State quickly posted leads of first 10 and then 15 points, with White accounting for 11 himself en route to a 25-10 lead midway through the half. A 10-2 Titan spurt was followed by a 12-0 run by the Aggies to make it 39-20 before Detroit reeled off another 10 points before intermission.
The Aggies then pulled away behind Newey's 18 second-half points - including a 5-of-10 shooting display from trey-land.
After Indiana's tourney-opening 103-66 blowout of St. Bonaventure, only about 2,000 fans bothered to stay to welcome Smith back with a warm reception during pre-game introductions. Most opted instead to head home to watch the football Hoosiers meet South Carolina in Wednesday night's telecast of the Liberty Bowl, with the crowd eventually dwindling to only a couple hundred.
However, the limited onlookers did come to life in the second half when Gilbert Pete took a Newey inbounds pass above the rim and threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk good for a 67-43 lead with eight minutes remaining. The dunk was precipitated by Newey's inconspicuous (?) holler of "one to Gil," which was easily heard throughout the arena-turned-echo-chamber - as was the reverberating jam by Pete.
Joining Newey and White in double figures for USU was freshman guard Kendall Youngblood, who contributed 10. And after having missed several previous games with a sore back, Nathan Grant returned with a nine-point, six-assist, five-rebound effort.
In the opening game, Indiana used a 17-4 run early and later survived a scare when the Bonnies cut the deficit to nine points soon after intermis-sion.
Hoosier guard Jay Edwards scored a game-high 20 points, while Joe Hillman added another 19 while hitting eight of 11 shots from the field.
TOURNAMENT NOTES: Indiana has never lost in the six previous Hoosier Classics . . . The estimated crowd of 11,500 at the opener was small yet significant, considering not only the Liberty Bowl conflict and the fact that the basketball game was being broadcast live by a Indianapolis television station . . . .
A member of the Hoosier team is one Brian Sloan, a 6-foot-8 senior frontliner who is the son of Utah Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. The younger Sloan finished with two points, a rebound, an assist and two blocks in 10 minutes of action against St. Bonaventure. Add to that Knight's comments that "Sloan really played well defensively" - something that would make Dad proud.