Another top-five team came to Assembly Hall, and another top-five team left empty-handed.
The Indiana Hoosiers' dominating 70-55 win over Michigan State earlier tonight isn't something that happens very often to a Tom-Izzo-coached team. Michigan State held a 4-1 advantage over Indiana with 18:19 to play in the first half, and they would never lead again.
The Hoosiers put together what was easily their most complete performance of the season, right on the heels of another dominating performance against Minnesota just two days ago.
Freshman Cody Zeller will be the first player to jump off the stat sheet, going for 18 points and four rebounds on the night. But the player of the game award could be split six or seven different ways.
Victor Oladipo set the tone in this game for the Hoosiers, both with his early defense on Draymond Green and his aggressiveness on the offensive end. Draymond Green had a monster game for the Spartans, finishing with 29 points and eight rebounds, but Oladipo kept him out of the game early, which allowed the Hoosiers to build up a lead. It seemed that Tom Crean was content to let Green get his, so long as he wasn't able to easily get his teammates involved.
Oladipo's ball-handling skills still have a lot of room for improvement, but they have come a long way in the short time he has spent in Bloomington. He was taking Michigan State's Brandon Dawson off the dribble at will for the first 15 minutes of this contest.
If there was one player that Indiana needed to bounce back in a big way, it was Christian Watford, and he certainly obliged. Watford finished the game with 10 points and a career-high 14 rebounds; he also played his best defensive game in an Indiana uniform.
In the last meeting between these two teams in East Lansing, Spartans point guard, Keith Appling, lit the Hoosiers up for 25 points.Tonight? Appling finished the game with six points on just 2-6 shooting. Christian Watford was the main reason for that. Watford's length denied Appling from getting into the lane at all in the first half, and the young point guard was incredibly ineffective for most of the game.
This Indiana team is at its best when Watford is playing at a high level, and he seems to be getting his confidence back at the right time.
The defense of both Jordan Hulls and Will Sheehey can't be overlooked either. Despite being limited athletically, Hulls finished the game with three steals, a couple coming on some key plays in help defense. Hulls also knocked down a couple of clutch shots late in the second half.
Sheehey got the assignment on Brandon Dawsen for most of the night, and he held the freshman to just three points and only two rebounds.
Also not to be overlooked has been the consistency of Verdell Jones III as he settles into his role as the sixth man. Sheehey probably would have earned the starting role sooner rather than later, but his foot injury in December held him back.
Verdell seems awfully comfortable making the adjustment; adding 12 points, two assists and four rebounds in 24 minutes of play last night. It's never a bad thing when you can bring a 1000-point career scorer off the bench.
And then there's that Zeller guy.
Cody Zeller had a rough go of it in the first meeting of the year against the Spartans, finishing with only four points and three rebounds. The National Freshman of the Year candidate came back in a big way tonight.
On top of his 18 points, Zeller played great defense against the frontcourt duo of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix. His steal on Keith Appling and subsequent coast-to-coast dunk, with just under four minutes to play in the game, may have been one of the bigger defensive plays the Hoosiers have had all year.
Indiana beat the best rebounding team in the country on the boards, out-rebounding the Spartans 30-28. The Hoosiers also converted on 19-22 free throws on the night, compared to just 10-17 for the Spartans, and also won the turnover battle.
Indiana won't lose many games when those stats line up.
Tom Crean was able to get his first win against his mentor, Tom Izzo, since he took over at Indiana in 2008. The Hoosiers appear to be peaking at the right time; the team that was on the floor tonight is capable of making a deep run in both the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament.
It's now Crean's job to figure out how to do it away from Assembly Hall.
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