Indiana went nearly three minutes without a point. Derrick Nix scored twice on Cody Zeller. Even worse, he got away with a punch to the solar plexis (wrestling term) on Zeller.
It was a pain Hoosier fans were feeling right along with their team. They’d seen this script play out in East Lansing before.
But this time, it was different. In fact, it was almost the reverse of what happened 12 days ago in Indiana’s last loss to Illinois. The finishing kick this time belonged to the Hoosiers. Over the final 1:37 of the game, Indiana outscored Michigan State 9-1, and wrestled away control of their Big Ten and potentially number one seed destiny.
While by now you know the final score and result, let’s answer here the two most important questions. Why it happened, and what impact does it have going forward.
WHO GOT IT DONE
As has been the case in nearly every big win, the conversation in terms of key players begins with Victor Oladipo. The overall stat line is eye-popping: 19 points on 7-11 shooting, nine rebounds, five steals, and just one turnover in 30 minutes of play.
And that doesn’t even begin to tell the story.
This is on the heels of missing the second half three days earlier due to a sprained ankle. After the game, Tom Crean said that Oladipo wasn’t even close to 100 percent tonight. Looked pretty good to me, and really good to Michigan State.
Not to mention that he owned the final minute of the game. Keith Appling missed the front end of the one-and-one with the Spartans leading by a point with 1:08 to play, and Oladipo grabs the board. Then he’s there to tap in the Yogi Ferrell miss to put Indiana back in front with 43 seconds to play. That’s followed by somehow getting an entire half of the court to himself to dunk the Hoosiers to a three-point lead. His final acts were to grab the intentional Gary Harris miss with MSU trailing by two, and then sealed the deal by calmly making both free throws with 2.5 seconds to play to push the final margin to four.
Cody Zeller got the Hoosiers off and running in each half, and Jordan Hulls was big early in the second half, making his last four threes he’d attempt for the game. But if you point to one guy, it’s not a hard call to make. It was all about Oladipo on Tuesday night.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN
In the afterglow of Indiana’s first win in East Lansing in 22 years, there’s almost an immediate reaction to give this win perspective. Even to compare it to other previous wins in this now two-year renaissance of Indiana basketball.
There’s two games in the same neighborhood as this one: last year’s win against Kentucky, and this year’s win against then number one Michigan.
The Kentucky win was more about putting the program back on the map. It was as much of a cathartic release of emotion as Christian Watford’s shot went in as anything, with no one wanting to leave the Assembly Hall floor for seemingly hours after the fact. There was still significant progress yet to be made by the program. That was clear in how the Hoosiers went 3-6 on the road in Big Ten play a season ago, losing to afterthoughts like Iowa and Nebraska.
No doubt it was a quantum leap forward. And there was no shame in seeing your season end to that same Kentucky team, who’d go on to win a national championship after downing Indiana 102-90 in the Sweet 16.
The Michigan win this year was tremendous for a couple of different reasons. There was the all-day event that was ESPN’s College Gameday, there was the bragging rights of beating the number one team in the country, and there was the payoff of reclaiming the nation’s top spot as a result of that win.
But this one’s different. This is the last regular season carrot that was dangled in front of Tom Crean’s team. Not just ending a losing streak that pre-dated virtually every player on the roster, but to win in a road environment that best resembled what opponents have faced in Bloomington this season.
With Indiana’s reclaiming of their seat as one of college basketball’s top programs, every road game has taken on a greater significance as the season has rolled along. The ability to win in a place like East Lansing last night is perceived to lead that same team to the ability to do the same come March or April in tournament time.
Ironically, winning in that type of atmosphere and this caliber of game, helps to ensure the Hoosiers won’t have to play postseason games in a venue like that. It makes it quite the opposite. It gets Indiana a step closer to playing games at Assembly Hall East/South (Dayton or Lexington) or the Assembly Hall-Indy branch campus, i.e. Lucas Oil Stadium.
From a simple math standpoint, what Tuesday’s win means is this: if Indiana wins their next three games (@ Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio State), they are guaranteed to win the Big Ten regular season title. They’d have at least a two-game lead over Michigan going into Ann Arbor for the regular season finale, and they’d be at worst one game clear of Michigan State and would own the tiebreaker.
Bigger picture: win the Big Ten, win the right to play in your backyard on the path to Atlanta.
The only better news for the Hoosiers is that they now get a few days to rest, recover, and enjoy the spoils of this win. Even with the great result, this one would be tough to bounce back from. Seven full days are needed to get ready for the next road challenge at Minnesota.
That even holds true for the fans. This one was a classic, enjoy it Hoosier nation.