Tribune Star Correspondent
The best player on Indiana’s roster may no longer be Cody Zeller.
But with the game on the line, nobody came up bigger than Indiana’s All-American center.
Zeller drew a charge from Adriean Payne with 14 seconds to play to help secure IU’s 75-70 win over No. 13 Michigan State on Sunday.
Zeller had nine points for No. 7 Indiana (18-2. 6-1 Big Ten), his second straight subpar offensive game. He was 2-of-7 from the field and 5-of-6 from the line after an 0-for-4 night from the floor on Wednesday against Penn State.
“People might say he’s had a bad game, two bad games, but he’s leading us,” Victor Oladipo said of Zeller.
“He’s so non-statistic-driven, and that’s what makes him a winner,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said of Zeller.
In some ways, Oladipo has taken the mantle as the Hoosiers’ best player. He had a season-high 21 points, seven rebounds and career highs in steals (six) and blocks (three) against Michigan State (17-4, 6-2).
“That’s just Victor now. It’s definitely a part of our offense now,” Christian Watford said. “He brings a lot of energy. Not only that, he gets us open by the way he attacked the basket.”
“Oladipo, you’ve got to love the guy. He competes,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I thought we did a pretty good job on Zeller, but other guys hurt us.”
Watford had 12 points, Yogi Ferrell scored 11 and Jordan Hulls added 10 points for the Hoosiers, who got off to a hot shooting start — IU hit nine of its first 10 field goals to build a 20-13 lead.
But the Spartans wouldn’t go away easily. Payne’s dunk with 1:06 left in the first half tied the game at 38.
Hulls answered with a 3-pointer, and after a missed 3 by Denzel Valentine, Ferrell beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer to send the Hoosiers into halftime with a 44-38 lead.
“I knew time was running down, I knew I had to get a shot up,” said Ferrell, who was 1-for-5 from beyond the arc. IU was just 8-of-21 on 3-pointers, cooling off after a 6-for-12 showing in the first half.
Michigan State was better, hitting 11-of-23 from 3-point range. Payne, who was 3-of-4 on 3-pointers for the season coming into Sunday’s game, was 3-of-4 from beyond the arc against the Hoosiers, finishing with 18 points.
Gary Harris, last year’s Indiana Mr. Basketball, had 21 points despite receiving plenty of vitriol from IU fans — enough so that Harris’ father exchanged some words with members of IU’s student section as the game ended.
Harris, a standout at Hamilton Southeastern, fell one point shy of matching his season-best point total. He had 22 against Purdue on Jan. 5.
Branden Dawson added 12 points for the Spartans, who had won six in a row.
Keith Appling was Michigan State’s top scorer coming into the game, averaging 14.1 points. But the Hoosiers held him to three points on 1-of-4 shooting before he fouled out with 5:17 to play.
Appling also had four of Michigan State’s 19 turnovers.
“Nobody’s really pressured them all season long,” Oladipo said. “I think Yogi set the tone.”
“We had our chances, (but) our key guy wasn’t there,” Izzo said of missing Appling.