WHAT HAPPENED: Indiana outlasted No. 4 Michigan State 72-68 in a ferocious battle for first place in the Big Ten in front of 14,797 at the Breslin Center. It was the No. 1 Hoosiers’ first win in East Lansing since 1991, snapping a string of 17 straight losses at Michigan State. It also gives the Hoosiers not only a one-game lead on Michigan State but also the head-to-head tiebreaker, as the Hoosiers (24-3 overall, 12-2 in the Big Ten) have beaten the Spartans (22-5, 11-3) twice this year.
The Hoosiers held the lead from the 14:42 mark when senior forward Christian Watford hit a 3-pointer to make it 13-11 until the 6:30 mark in the second half and were up by as many as eight points, but they had to rally back from four points down with 1:37 to go. Senior forward Christian Watford scored a critical 3-point play with 1:24 to make it 67-66. Michigan State point guard Keith Appling missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:08 left, and on the ensuing possession, IU junior guard Victor Oladipo tipped in a missed layup by freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell to make 68-67 with 43 seconds left. After a missed layup by Michigan State freshman guard Gary Harris, Oladipo scored on a runout dunk off an inbound to make it 70-67. Harris had a chance to tie the game when he was fouled on a 3-point shot by IU junior swingman Will Sheehey, but he missed the first, made the second then had to purposefully miss the third. Oladipo grabbed the rebound and hit two free throws to seal the win.
WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Victor Oladipo. So many times Victor Oladipo.
The Indiana junior guard went over 1,000 points in his career, and authored the signature moments in his Player of the Year campaign in the game’s last 43 seconds. The tip-in, the runout dunk, the rebound and the free throws effectively won the Hoosier a game they almost let slip away. Playing on an ankle that he said was maybe 85-90 percent, he scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds and five steals. He hit one 3-pointer, but most of his seven field goals were either layups or dunks. He managed to inbound the ball to himself off the back of Michigan State’s Matt Costello and dunk the ball before Costello turned around. His steal and save that turned into a fastbreak dunk with 5:47 to go also qualifies as one of his most astounding players of the year.Those last six points put him over 1,000 for his career.
Sophomore center Cody Zeller also continued his solid play. The Hoosiers established him early and he finished with 17 points and two blocks. He also broke the 1,000-point barrier. Senior forward Christian Watford had a somewhat uneven performance in part because he was shaken up by a flagrant foul called against him for accidentally hitting Michigan State’s Adreian Payne in the face, but he finished with 12 points, hitting two 3-pointers and that critical 3-point play down the stretch.
IU senior guard Jordan Hulls had 12 points on four 3-pointers. He and Watford were already well over 1,000 points, so with Zeller and Oladipo now over the barrier, this Indiana team became the first IU team in school history to have four players past the 1,000-point mark at the same time.
Harris scored 19 points for Michigan State. Junior forward Adreian Payne had 17 ponts and seven rebounds.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN: Mostly it was Oladipo and the big play by Watford and Zeller’s strong play and some big shots from Hulls but there were other reasons.
After giving up 11 3-pointers in the first matchup, the Hoosiers seemed to make a concerted effort not to get beat by the 3. They didn’t play any zone and they didn’t double from the wing to the post very much, though they did sometimes double with two post men. The Spartans ended up just 4-for-15 from beyond the arc. Payne was 3-for-3, but the rest of the team was 1-for-12. Indiana played man-to-man the entire time, and sometimes that left Hulls in a very disadvantageous matchup with Harris, but the Hoosiers won most of their other matchups and Hulls scored enough to keep it at just short of a wash.Indiana, meanwhile, shot 8-for-18 from beyond the arc, and those four extra points were the difference.
Freshman guard Yogi Ferrell had his struggles and shot just 3-for-9 while committing three fouls and two turnovers. But he also had five assists, and he combined with Oladipo to take Michigan State point guard Keith Appling out of the game again. Appling wasn’t in foul trouble this time and played 36 minutes, but he was just 1-for-8 from the field and had four turnovers against two assists.
The Hoosiers lost the rebound battle by one and failed to at least match their opponents’ points at the free throw line for the first time since their Dec. 31 win at Iowa, but they only turned the ball over 10 times, also a critical component to the victory.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: So, so much.
Just winning in Breslin is big. The Hoosiers hadn’t beaten Michigan State on its home court since 1991, when very few members of IU’s current team were even alive. That means a lot for Crean personally, as he is both a Michigan native and former Michigan State assistant. His father and mother — who separated during his youth — were both at the game.
But this was one of the biggest remaining regular season hurdles for the Hoosiers in their hopes of setting up the best possible path in the NCAA Tournament. This gives the Hoosiers a one-game lead plus the head-to-head tiebreaker with Michigan State in the Big Ten championship race. They haven’t claimed a share of one of those since 2002 and they haven’t won the title outright since 1993, so that in itself would be a major accomplishment for this team.
But even more important than that, whoever wins the Big Ten will probably earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA’s, and namely, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest and therefore a chance to play the regional semifinals and finals in Indianapolis, by all intents and purposes a pair of home games. As it stands, the Hoosiers would be the overall No. 1 seed if the season ended today, and they are running out of chances to lose that spot.
WHO SAID WHAT:
Sometimes these games don’t live up to the hype. We played Michigan at home a few weeks ago for College Gameday and it did. Without a doubt, tonight it did. We knew that it would be a battle and I’m sure they knew it would be a battle. We told our guys that this would be the most physical game of basketball up to this point of the year. There might be more coming down the road, but we had to make sure that we did our part, because we knew that Michigan State would do their part. When you play in games like this, it is not just about how tough you are, but also how smart you are and I thought our guys did an excellent job of that tonight.”
“People asked if Victor Oladipo is 100 percent, and there is no way of knowing that Victor Oladipo wasn’t close to 100 percent tonight. He wasn’t close. The way he played was excellent, but the way he finished this game when he was winded and there’s no doubt that his foot hurt. he might tell you different, but I’ve been around him long enough to know when he is right. and I knew that his mind was right, though.”
“Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls are high-level seniors. Statistics aside, they made leadership decisions and plays throughout the game. When you have a mature team, a smart team, and a team that is invested like they are, we have a lot of conversations in timeouts, and during the game, Ive grown to be a tremendous listener.
On Michigan State’s last possession
“I don’t think we fouled (Gary) Harris. We had no intentions of fouling. At that point, we were in switching defense. We said the word “verticality,” and any shot they were going to make was going to have to be earned. We did not want to foul in that situation. I’ll have to watch the film, but my initial reaction is that we didn’t. it was called and we dealt with it and played it out.”
“I don’t think that we ever felt that he wouldn’t play. His attitude was great. He was rehabbing at such a high level. Being able to play and being able to play at a level of effectiveness, those are night and day things. I think what he did tonight was that he has tried the best the last few days to be himself, but he really hasn’t been. It’s not bad, but his maturity and level of toughness went up another notch. There is no way that he felt good and there is no way that he had the normal level of conditioning, but he has such mental toughness.”
“Christian was just a grown man the whole night. Airballing and having 15,000 people yell t him didn’t affect him one bit. We just kept coming. We had the foul situations and the flagrant, which I just trust, because those are high-level officials. He didn’t let any of that affect him. He just kept playing, and the pass he made at the end of the three-quarter court was something we drew up and he had the sense to get it inbounds. To have the presence of mind to get it inbounds and find Victor running up the court was phenomenal. Christian made big plays all night like he has all season long. he drew a very tough assignment in guarding Derrick Nix.”
“I thought we had our chances but we really didn’t play well enough to win the game. We just made too many mistakes early. Wehad some of our key players that weren’t into the game. We had some distractions, and I think it affected some guys. We bounced back in the second half and played a little better. Give Indiana credit. For me, the MVP of this league, Oladipo made very play when he needed to The tip-in was phenomenal. He did the job and the things he has to do offensively and defensively.
On Oladipo’s dunk and tip-in
“With the dunk, there was a mistake in the switch. The play that was the killer was the tip-n. What happened is he’s got incredible heart and he just did what he does. I can give you our scouting report right now — cut him out, cut him out, cut him out — and he went and got it.”
“I probably was 85-90 (percent), but plus the adrenaline and the fans, 100 percent.”
“There was no question (I would play). Maybe from everybody else and maybe from coach and them, but you would’ve had to kill me in order for me to miss this game.”
“I was just being aggressive, not even that much, just finishing plays out. Doing whatever I needed to do in order to help my team win. Whether it was crashing the glass like I did or getting big stops or getting big free throws.
“The tip-in, Yogi had a wide-open layup, but at the end of the day, he missed it. No player is ever over until the ball goes through the hoop. I was just crashing just in case. Luckily, the ball went to me and I tipped it in.”
“On the runout, everybody went to Jordan. That’s how much attention he attracts. Christian found me, and that’s all she wrote to be honest with you.”