BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana was playing for so much more than the Big Ten lead against Michigan State.
Tom Crean was facing an old friend and former boss in Tom Izzo. Cody Zeller was trying to rebound from the worst offensive night of his career. And Victor Oladipo, well, he just wanted to show a national television audience what the Hoosiers could do.
Oladipo and No. 7 Indiana didn't let anyone down.
The junior guard scored 21 points, had seven rebounds and six steals, leading No. 7 Indiana past No. 13 Michigan State 75-70.
"For us to get this win in this environment, for us to make the plays that we made, especially at the end, for us to make the defensive stops that we made to get the buckets that we needed to get, I thought was huge," Crean said.
Zeller made only two baskets Sunday, two more than he had in Wednesday's win over Penn State, and still played a key role. The second basket came on a layup with 1:38 left, which gave Indiana a two-possession lead. Zeller then took a charge with 14.3 seconds left, which essentially sealed the game.
But the Big Ten's preseason player of the year was overshadowed again by Oladipo.
Not only did he put up big numbers on the stat sheet, he opened the game with a steal and dunk, consistently came up with big plays and had 15 deflections in the first half, a number Crean said he had never seen from a player before.
How good was he? Even Izzo was impressed.
"Oladipo just plays so hard," the Spartans coach said. "He's the Ray Lewis of college basketball."
The Hoosiers (18-2, 6-1 Big Ten) are hoping Oladipo can deliver the same result as the Ravens star linebacker did with Crean's brother-in-law, John Harbaugh: Playing for a championship.
And if Oladipo keeps playing like this, he just might.
Oladipo was 8 of 12 from the field and 4 of 6 from the free-throw line, had three blocks and was helping to open things up for everyone else when he wasn't putting the ball in the basket or poking it away.
Christian Watford finished with 12 points and six rebounds. Yogi Ferrell had 11 points, and Jordan Hulls made three 3-pointers, finished with 10 points and four assists and closed out the game by making 1 of 2 free throws.
Indiana has now won three in a row since losing to Wisconsin, has won two straight over the Spartans and has nine wins over ranked teams at home over the past 24 months and is back in the driver's seat in the Big Ten.
"It just shows we can run," Oladipo said. "Transition is a big deal on our team, and for me to get those steals and start our break, that was huge for us. My guys did a good job of playing defense and running on the break."
The Spartans were led by Gary Harris. The 2012 Indiana Mr. Basketball made five 3-pointers, finished with 21 points and was resoundingly booed in his first trip back to his home state. Adreian Payne added 18 points and doubled his season total by making three 3s. The only other Spartan in double figures was Branden Dawson, another Indiana native who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
But this was no typical game for the Spartans (17-4, 6-2).
They allowed Indiana to shoot 50.9 percent from the field, committed 19 turnovers and essentially fought to a draw on rebounds. Keith Appling fouled out with a little more than five minutes to go, and during the final three minutes, when the Spartans have been so good, they struggled to get anything right.
"Down the stretch, we were really sucking air and that caused us not to jam or step up or switch," Izzo said. "Indiana's a good basketball team, though. I still think, top to bottom, they're the best team because of depth."
Indiana left no doubt about it Sunday.
After Michigan State took a 31-30 lead late in the first half, Indiana answered with a 3 from Will Sheehey and another 3 from Hulls. Ferrell's 3 to close the half gave Indiana 44-38 lead.
Oladipo's two free throws with 16:28 to go extended the lead to 50-43, but when it looked like the Hoosiers might pull away, Harris dashed those hopes by making back-to-back 3s over the next 50 seconds to get the Spartans within 50-49.
Indiana never led by more than six the rest of the way, but with Oladipo leading the defense, Michigan State never managed to tie the score or take the lead, either.
The Hoosiers final sealed it in the final 98 seconds with Zeller's layup, the charge and Hulls' free throw.
"He (Oladipo) was a tremendous difference from the start of the game," Crean said. "If you're not cerebral like that and at the same time, quick, it's hard to defend like that. But he's been good. We knew he was going to play well on the offensive end and to take away things on the defensive end, too."