A few quick thoughts on No. 1 Indiana's 72-68 win at No. 4 Michigan State on Tuesday night at the Breslin Center, which snapped IU's 17-game losing streak at MSU and gave the Hoosiers first place alone in the Big Ten...
Overview: It was the first-ever meeting between these two powerhouses with both in the top 10, and it lived up to the billing. The first half was well-played from the start, with both teams battling for position on the low block, running nifty secondary breaks, all while the Izzone was at full throat. Indiana took a 36-30 lead into the half, and the difference was outside shooting -- the Hoosiers made 5-of-12 from 3, while a colder (and less eager) Michigan State knocked down just two of their nine attempts.
Michigan State took its first second half lead thanks almost entirely to Gary Harris -- his 3-pointer with 13:48 cut the lead to just one, 48-47. On the next defensive possession, Harris made a deft play to cut off an interior pass to Yogi Ferrell, forcing a steal and a runout promptly finished by Branden Dawson.
Despite Michigan State's crowd or the sense of momentum, IU didn't fade -- Zeller answered back with a questionable continuation, and Jordan Hulls hit a pair of 3s -- and neither did Michigan State. The thing stayed tight until the final minutes.
That's when Derrick Nix made his biggest plays of the game, a three-possession series in which he got blocked by Cody Zeller but made the follow, stole the entry pass to Zeller on the other end, and then put the skinnier and overmatched Christian Watford under the hoop for another two for Michigan State. (Nix arguably also threw a cheap shot; it was difficult to see from my angle.) A Gary Harris free throw with a 1:38 left gave Michigan State a 67-63 lead.
Then Victor Oladipo happened. Indiana rolled off a 9-1 run to end the game, taking the lead on an Oladipo tip with 47 seconds to go and then extending it to 3 when the Wooden Award candidate broke away on an inbounds pass and dunked with 10 ticks left.
Harris was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 3.7 to go but missed the first of his three FTs. After IU got the board on his intentionally missed third free throw, Oladipo sank two freebies with 2.5 left and the Hoosiers walked away with their first win in East Lansing since 1991.
Key stat: 3-point shooting. It's not all that complicated: Michigan State was Indiana's equal in nearly every key category but 3-point shooting, where they went just 4-for-15, and needed a 3-for-3 night from 6-foot-11 forward Adreian Payne to get there. The rest of the team was 1-for-12 from outside. Not good enough.
Key player: Victor Oladipo. Oladipo didn't have his best night of the season, but brilliance -- and timely plays -- are typical, and his follow and tip-in with less than a minute left gave IU a 68-67 lead, his dunk with 10 seconds gave the Hoosiers a cushion and his two free throws at the end sealed it up. Oladipo led Indiana with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting and added 9 rebounds and 5 steals.
What's next: The closing stretch of Indiana's season isn't easy: The Hoosiers head to Minnesota next week, followed by home games versus Iowa and Ohio State and a season-closer -- and all-around massive game -- at Michigan on March 10. Michigan State, meanwhile, is neck-deep in the worst of its conference schedule; the Spartans' next two are at Ohio State and Michigan. Life in the Big Ten, eh?