Indiana and Michigan State played for first place in the Big Ten Tuesday night.
EAST LANSING, Mich. (WDRB) – It's a long and grinding road until April 6 and 8 in Atlanta, where the NCAA Final Four will be played in the Georgia Dome.
Lots of buzzers to be beaten. Foul trouble to dodge. Sprained ankles to survive. Brackets to be busted. Prayers to be answered.
But Indiana and Michigan State have played two games this season, and nobody should be shocked if either team shows up on the final weekend of the season.
They played a classic game in Bloomington Jan. 27 – and Indiana won 75-70.
The rematch was just as epic. Back and forth. Jab and hook. Serve and volley.
But in the end, behind the thunderous play of junior Victor Oladipo, Indiana defeated the Spartans again in the Breslin Center, 72-68. The Hoosiers (24-3, 12-2) are now a game up on Michigan State in the Big Ten race. It was IU's first win in East Lansing since 1991.
In the final five minutes, Oladipo had a huge steal, a block, a tip-in, a defensive rebound, run-out basket and made two free throws to ice the game. About the only thing he didn't do was grab the microphone from Magic Johnson, Dick Vitale and Mike Tirico and sing.
THE 1,000-POINT MEN – Cody Zeller scored six points in the first five minutes to push his career scoring total past 1,000 points. Zeller finished with 17 and now has 1,011. Oladipo finished with 19, pushing his career total to 1,005. Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford are also members of the Hoosiers' 1,000-point club. It is the first time in IU history the Hoosiers have had four 1,000-point scorers on the same team.
RUNNING IT OFF – There wasn't much doubt that Victor Oladipo would play after spraining his left ankle against Purdue last Saturday. Oladipo sat out the second half of the Purdue game, but only because the Hoosiers had a comfortable lead and Crean wanted to make certain that his most valuable defensive player was ready for Michigan State.
Oladipo not only started, he played 30 minutes and in addition to his scoring had five steals and nine rebounds. Oladipo said his ankle was about 85 percent. Crean did not sound convinced that Oladipo was that sound.
IT'S MAGIC – Former Michigan State star Magic Johnson teamed with Dick Vitale and Mike Tirico to work his first college game this season on ESPN Tuesday night.
Johnson said the Big Ten was clearly the best conference in college basketball this season and that he would not be surprised to see any of four Big Ten teams win the national championship this season.
But Johnson shook his head when asked if this was the best year ever for Big Ten basketball.
He said the real glory days were in the late 70s when he roamed the court for the Spartans, winning the 1979 NCAA title.
SUCH GOOD FRIENDS – Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Tom Crean of Indiana have endured multiple recruiting battles (primarily for MSU freshman Gary Harris a year ago) and competed on the court in the Big Ten for the last five seasons.
But their friendship remains solid. In fact, Izzo said before the game that coaching against Crean Tuesday night compared with the emotions that he expected that the Harbaugh brothers felt before they met in the Super Bowl.
FAMILY AFFAIR -- Crean grew up a little more than an hour from East Lansing and said one of his first basketball memories was watching the Harlem Globetrotters play at Jennison Fieldhouse. He had several special guests for the game -- his father, his mother and his sister.
FEELING THE PAYNE – The statistics say that Michigan State forward Adreian Payne is not a three-point shooter. He really isn't. During his freshman and sophomore seasons Payne, 6-foot-10 forward, had made one three-point shot during his career.
Then Payne stuck three threes against Indiana in Bloomington last month.
A fluke. Nope. He made three more Tuesday night, inspiring the question:
Why doesn't Payne shoot three-pointers against everybody?
UP NEXT – Indiana has a week off, but returns to the road next Tuesday at Minnesota. The Hoosiers defeated Tubby Smith's team, 88-81, in Assembly Hall Jan. 12. Indiana also won in Williams Arena last season. The road gets more difficult for Michigan State. The Spartans face consecutive road games at Ohio State and Michigan.