No. 1 Indiana University and No. 4 Michigan State University battled it out in this week's "Game of the Year" on Tuesday night, and after 40 minutes of scintillating basketball, the Hoosiers escaped East Lansing with a 72-68 win.
Tom Crean's squad now sits alone atop the Big Ten with a 24-3 overall record and a 12-2 mark in Big Ten play. Michigan State falls to 22-5 and slips to one game behind the Hoosiers at 11-3.
Victor Oladipo was a force on both sides of the court for the Hoosiers, finishing with a game-high 19 points (7-11 FGs), nine boards, five steals and a thunderous block.
The Hoosiers had four of their five starters in double figures. In addition to Oladipo, Cody Zeller pumped in 17, and Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls each put up 12.
The pace was frantic early, and despite 44 percent shooting from Michigan State, the Hoosiers led for most of the first half.
Oladipo was the clear star of the opening 20 minutes. The ultra-athletic All-America candidate came into this one with a less than 100 percent ankle, but he scored from the outside and on the inside, rebounded, got his hands in the passing lane and provided this block:
Behind plays like that, along with efficient three-point shooting as a team, the Hoosiers led at half, 36-30.
After the break, the quality of play somehow improved, but neither team was able to pull away and a thrilling battle ensued.
Oladipo continued to make plays all over the court, Zeller scored inside and out and Hulls and Watford caught fire from the outside.
But Michigan State stuck around.
Adreian Payne raised his NBA stock with impressive drives to the hoop, three-pointers and blocks. He finished with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting with seven boards. Gary Harris scored 19 points to go with three thefts. Fellow freshman Denzel Valentine showcased his unique, intelligent skill set by once again filling up the box score off the bench.
It seemed like everyone except Keith Appling was on top of his game for this marquee matchup.
In the end, Oladipo tipped in a Yogi Ferrell miss with 50 seconds left and then broke free moments later for a dunk to put Indiana up three, but a questionable foul was called on Will Sheehey as Harris went up for a three-pointer.
The true freshman missed the first freebie, however, and MSU couldn't get the offensive rebound after he missed the third.
Payne knocked down two three-pointers in the early moments, sparking this ridiculous comparison to his first two seasons in East Lansing (via ESPN Stats & Info):
Adreian Payne made more 3-pointers in the 1st 7 minutes tonight than he made in his 1st 2 college seasons combined. #IUvsMICHST— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 20, 2013
But it was Oladipo who deservedly garnered most of the early praise (via CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello):
Oladipo is just doing everything. So much for that injury. Involved in every play defensively, getting buckets on offense.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) February 20, 2013
Of course, while the do-everything guard was busy making jaws drop with his insane playmaking ability, teammate Derek Elston received the biggest compliment of the night (via CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein):
Derek Elston has become Indiana's Brian Scalabrine. Makes open threes, sets screens, and competes.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 20, 2013
Even Grantland's Bill Simmons, normally more of an NBA guy, had good things to say about this back-and-forth battle:
College hoops has been horrendous as a whole this season, but the Big 10 has been good and this Indy-MSU game is tremendous.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) February 20, 2013
After an impressive first half, Payne continued making big plays down the stretch for the Spartans. Borzello summed up his night:
Adreian Payne doing some NBA things tonight.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) February 20, 2013
Oladipo and Indiana, however, got the last laugh.