Victor Oladipo wasted no time getting Indiana's fans riled up Sunday.
They responded to his energetic play with loud, boisterous support for the next two hours and he responded to their cheers by delivering a performance to remember.
The junior guard finished with 21 points, seven rebounds, six steals and three blocks, leading the seventh-ranked Hoosiers to a 75-70 victory over No. 13 Michigan State on a day Oladipo was already thinking about doing more.
"There are still things I need to improve on, even today," Oladipo said. "So I have to keep getting better."
This one will be hard to top.
Indiana (18-2, 6-1 Big Ten) has won three straight since a Jan. 25 loss to Wisconsin. It has won back-to-back games over the Spartans after ending a six-game losing streak in the series. The Hoosiers picked up their ninth win in Assembly Hall over a Top 25 foe during the past 24 months, and their latest victory helped break up a three-way logjam atop the Big Ten. Indiana was awaiting the result of the Michigan-Illinois game to see if it would share the conference lead with the Wolverines or have it all to themselves.
How much did this win mean to coach Tom Crean?
After shaking hands with his old friend, Tom Izzo, Crean walked to the corner in the south end of Assembly Hall, raised both arms and thanked the students for their constant noise. A few minutes later, he was thanking others.
"He (Oladipo) was a tremendous difference from the start of the game. He had a knowledge base that he put into his game as to how he was going to defend," 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. And we don't win this game without Will Sheehey, we really don't."
The impact of Oladipo was evident in the box score and beyond.
He was 8 of 12 from the field and 4 of 6 from the line with more offensive rebounds (four) than defensive. Crean also credited him with 15 first-half deflections, something Crean said he's never seen before. And when Oladipo wasn't making plays, there were plenty of others willing to help.
Cody Zeller made only two baskets and finished with nine points but scored on a layup with 1:38 to go to make it a two-possession game. He also took a charge with 14.3 seconds left that essentially sealed the win.
Christian Watford finished with 12 points and six rebounds, Yogi Ferrrell had 11 points and a key 3-pointer just before halftime and Jordan Hulls had 10 points and four assists. Most of it was the result of Oladipo and the threat he posed on every possession.
"That's just Victor," Watford explained. "We feel like we're a great team when Victor does this. He brings a lot of energy. Not only that, he gets us open by the way he attacks the basket. He did a great job today."
Michigan State (17-4, 6-2) just couldn't keep up.
Gary Harris, last year's Indiana Mr. Basketball was booed relentlessly, yet made five 3-pointers and finished with 21 points. Adreian Payne added 18 points and was 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, matching his season total of three 3s. The only other player to reach double figures was Branden Dawson, another Indiana native, who has 12 points and eight rebounds.
Still, it wasn't up to Izzo's standards. The Spartans, playing in special green-and-gold uniforms, committed 19 turnovers, allowed Indiana to shoot 50.9 percent from the field and essentially wound up with a rebounding draw, 32-31. Guard Keith Appling fouled out with 5:14 to go, too.
"Our whole deal was to keep them out of the lane and not turn the ball over and we didn't do either one of those very good," Izzo said. "We got tired, and we've been so good down the stretch and with three minutes left, I thought we had a chance."
It was every bit as entertaining as advertised.
After Michigan State took a 31-30 lead late in the first half, Indiana answered with a 3 from 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 when Zeller made the layup and took the charge, and Hulls made 1 of 2 free throws.
"It was a physical game, a hard-nosed game, it was a high-level game and they're a great team," Crean said. "That's why it's a great win for us."
Victor Oladipo wasted no time getting Indiana's fans riled up Sunday.
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