For a program with much-maligned struggles away from home in recent years, the Indiana Hoosiers are starting to get comfortable on the road.
No. 1 Indiana overcame
officiating adversity time after time and closed the game on a 9-1 run -- highlighted by Victor Oladipo's game-winning tip-in with 46 seconds remaining -- to knock off No. 4 Michigan State, 72-68, Tuesday night at the Breslin Center, notching the Hoosiers first win in East Lansing since 1991. Indiana now has six road wins this year, matching its total from the previous four seasons.
"It was a huge win for us," Oladipo said, according to IUHoosiers.com. "We've come a long way."
After failing to get a Big Ten road win over a top 10 team for almost 20 years, the Hoosiers have now won two such games in a row. With the victory, Indiana breaks a deadlock atop the Big Ten standings and moves in to sole possession of first place while also taking a big step toward locking up a No. 1 seed. The Hoosiers are 6-0 versus ranked teams this year, including 4-0 against top 10 teams.
The Hoosiers (24-3, 12-2) were in front for much of the game, but Michigan State (22-5, 11-3) rallied behind consecutive Derrick Nix buckets to seize a 67-63 advantage with 1:38 to play. It marked the Spartans' biggest lead of the contest.
With the Izzone rocking and a victory circling the drain, Indiana did what championship caliber teams do: it answered.
Christian Watford came up with a key three-point play, and Oladipo took it from there.
Oladipo, an emerging Wooden Award candidate, had a decent final minute. He tapped in a missed shot to push the Hoosiers in front, broke free for a jam off a brilliantly designed (maybe the Crean guy can coach, huh?) sideline out of bounds play, snagged a crucial rebound and iced the win with a pair of free throws.
Not too shabby for a 60-second stretch.
"Oladipo is just a refuse-to-lose guy," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "Winning time, he made the plays."
Oladipo finished with 19 points (on 7-of-11 shooting), nine rebounds and five steals. He's the first player this season to have two games of at least 10 points, five rebounds and five steals against ranked opponents, with both of his performances coming against Michigan State.
Cody Zeller started fast and ended up with 17 points. Jordan Hulls and Watford had 12 points apiece, with Hulls nailing four 3-pointers, including one from the Upper Peninsula. Kevin Ferrell added six points and five assists while committing just two turnovers.
"Nothing rattles us too much," Zeller said.
Gary Harris led Michigan State with 19 points, but he had a key miss from the charity stripe with a chance to tie it with 3.6 seconds left after Will Sheehey was whistled for guarding him.
Adreian Payne hit 6 of 8 from the field, totaling 17 points and seven boards. Payne hit all three of his 3-point tries. For the season, Payne has 10 made 3-pointers; six have come against Indiana. Nix was held to eight points and five rebounds, but he got away with one ball tap.
It was the third matchup of top-four teams in college basketball this season, and the second for Indiana, which previously beat then-top-ranked Michigan.
The Hoosiers have a week off before traveling to Minnesota. Michigan State is in the midst of a brutal stretch. The Spartans next two games are at Ohio State and at Michigan.
- First thing's first: that was an impressive, gusty performance from Indiana. Just when it looked like a good effort was going to be for naught, the Hoosiers fought back and got the win they deserved. Can you guys help me out and finish this statement -- that was the biggest Indiana regular season road win since ....
- OK, let's get serious. I'm typically a pretty level-headed guy, and I pride myself on being unbiased when it comes to sports. But, DAMN, the referees were terrible. At times, it felt like the guys with whistles were doing everything possible to keep Michigan State in the game. Indiana got the benefit of a bogus and-one continuation on Zeller in the second half, but almost every other call went the Spartans' way. That, as frustrating as it may be, is to be expected on the road in this conference. What can't be brushed aside were three blatantly horrific calls (or no-calls) -- the technical on Watford, Nix's slapping of Zeller's reproductive organs and the call on Sheehey at the end. Maybe I'm overreacting, but I thought all three were downright egregious, especially the whistle on Sheehey at the end of the game. That call can decide a contest, one which could factor heavily in to NCAA seeding and a Big Ten title. It's not one of those situations where there was some contact but the referee needs to swallow his whistle in the final seconds. It was one of those situations where Sheehey played TEXTBOOK defense and the referee bailed out the Spartans. It was a terrible call; there's no other way to put it. Fortunately, as the infamous Rasheed Wallace would say, "Ball don't lie!" And how the referees could review Nix swatting his hand at Zeller's junk and not call anything is beyond head-scratching, especially when these same referees handed out a bogus technical earlier when Watford accidentally caught Payne with an elbow as he was driving by him. Let's not forget: Payne was called for a foul on the play because he got beat off the dribble and grabbed Watford. Ugh. ... I know Indiana gets calls at home, and I understand home teams around college basketball get the benefit of 50-50 calls. At the same time, I thought the officials crossed the line tonight. I honestly felt like Indiana was 10-15 points better than Michigan State in this one. Am I off base here? Am I exaggerating? If so, let me know.
- Oladipo is going to steal a lot of the headlines, and he was the central figure of my story, but don't sleep on Watford's three-point play. It was huge, absolutely huge. Indiana was skidding at the time and desperately needed a bucket. Watford is a guy Indiana fans like to point the finger at after losses, but he's had a very nice career and a really good season. His ability to be a stretch-four and space the floor is vital to our offense, not to mention his defensive versatility and rebounding prowess. We're really, really going to miss him next year.
- Indiana is a legitimate national-championship caliber team, in case that needed cleared up.
- Lastly, Tom Crean never gets the credit he deserves. When Indiana wins, it's because he has great players. When the Hoosiers lose, it's Crean's fault. It's about time he's recognized for what he is: one of college basketball's top coaches. Most say Crean's weakness is in-game adjustments. Well, he was outstanding in this one. He switched Zeller back on to Nix late in the game at the perfect time, and running double teams to Nix's left hand was a brilliant plan in the first place. The sideline out of bounds play was pure beauty. If Brad Stevens had drawn it up, everyone would be tripping over themselves in a rush to praise his greatness. Aside from Xs and Os and game plans, Crean and the coaches did a masterful job of keeping the players unified throughout this contest. Despite the terrible officiating, I never saw Indiana guys get visibly upset at a referee, or anything like that. In a hostile environment, with things not going Indiana's way, it would have been easy for the Hoosiers to get frustrated. I never saw it. Instead, they rose above it and got a big-time, well-deserved victory.