LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Ohio State proved that it's possible to win the college football national championship playing a third-team quarterback.

Can the Indiana basketball team navigate through the Big Ten playing its third-team center?

Stay tuned.

It's not what coach Tom Crean planned, but he's about to begin an adventure with a team that doesn't start anybody bigger than 6 feet 7. Never mind Cody Zeller. Kent Benson and D.J. White are not walking through that door.

In their first game without the injured Hanner Mosquera-Perea, the Hoosiers outlasted Penn State, 76-73, winning on a night when they were outrebounded by seven and struggled to control the paint. It was ugly but Crean can't worry about style points in Big Ten play.

"Fortunately for us, we're learning how to win close games, which is something we didn't do a very good job of last year," Crean said. "We've got three wins. They've come down to two possessions and the other ones have come down to one possession.

"Those three wins that we had a year ago, that was the opposite for us. So our guys are learning how to win those games. We were 2-6, I believe, in one-possession games last year."

The win pushed Indiana's Big Ten record to 3-1. They have a road win and share first place with Wisconsin, Michigan State and Maryland. Indiana does not play until Sunday when the Hoosiers visit Illinois.

Penn State beat Indiana in Assembly Hall last season, rallying from an 11-point deficit in the final 3 ½ minutes.

The Hoosiers had to grind to the finish line again Tuesday night. They led by 12 (69-57) after Troy Williams took a pass from Yogi Ferrell and dunked with 6:53 to play. The bench never got cleared.

Indiana would score two more baskets (both three-pointers) and make one free throw the rest of the way. The victory, IU's 13th in 17 games, was not assured until Penn State guard D. J. Newbill, the Big Ten's leading scorer, missed a three-point attempt in the final 2 seconds.

Considering the IU lineup, it was not surprising the drama stretched until the final possession. Crean started Collin Hartman at center. Hartman is 6 feet 7. He underwent serious knee surgery last March. He wasn't big enough to play center at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis.

Williams, also 6-7, jumped center. He should be Indiana's small forward but he's been forced to play power forward in the Hoosiers' undersized lineup that has featured three guards since November.

Hartman, a sophomore, earned his first career start because the Hoosiers will be without Mosquera-Perea, their starting center, for the next two to four weeks.

(Four weeks seems more likely than two. The injury is a dislocated right knee cap. Mosquera-Perea watched the game in warm-ups from the bench. He has averaged 7.4 points and 5 rebounds in 16 games.)

"First thing I'm proud of is how the guys responded to a tough last 40 minutes of practice yesterday after Hanner got hurt," Crean said. 

"And most people, if you really look at it, how families are families can get mad at each other, they can fight, they can be happy, but at the end of the day when one hurts, and they really care about each other, they hurt, and I know sometimes that gets lost in the translation and it gets lost in the naysayer world. But guys that are really bonding, they hurt when that guy is out."

Mosquera-Perea became the starting center this season after Noah Vonleh departed for the NBA last spring and Luke Fischer transferred to Marquette last January.

In October, the back up was scheduled to be Devin Davis. But Davis has not played all season after he suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident on Halloween.

Until Mosquera-Perea returns, it will be Hartman and center by committee for the Hoosiers.

Against the Nittany Lions, it was Hartman, freshman Emmitt Holt, freshman Max Hoetzel and Ryan Burton, a 6-7 walk-on from Bedford, Ind., who began his career at Bellarmine. Burton, in fact, was on the court, when Indiana scored seven straight points to break a tie at 51. He contributed three critical offensive rebounds in only five minutes.

As a group, Hartman, Holt, Hoetzel and Burton had 11 points and nine rebounds. Hartman made a pair of threes, including one with about two minutes to play that became the game-winner. He had eight points and five rebounds.

Rebounding was an issue. Penn State had 13 offensive rebounds while Indiana had six. Forward Ross Travis used his strength to score 14 points and collect eight rebounds for the Nittany Lions. Penn State scored 46 points in the paint, 15 on second-chance points. IU, meanwhile, rebounded only 20 percent of its missed shots.

Indiana won because the Hoosiers finally had a solid shooting night from distance, making nine of 21 three-point shots, and they only turned the ball over nine times.

Freshman Robert Johnson played his best all-around game in weeks, leading Indiana with 20 points in 28 minutes. Johnson made four of six three-point shots without a turnover.

Stanford Robinson, a sophomore guard, had his best game of the season, scoring 12. Williams contributed 15 points and James Blackmon Jr. had 11.

"I just look at this moment probably when we played Ohio State last year without Noah (Vonleh) and Hanner stepped up and gave great minutes in that game," Robinson said.

"I just thought that this is the same thing. Somebody has to step up, and not just somebody, the team has to step up and pick up the slack that Hanner does. Hanner comes in and gives great minutes. He rebounds, he scores, he does it all. He defends. He's a great leader, so a lot of people had to come in and pick little parts of Hanner and put it into this game."

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.