Indiana won at Ohio State, but winning in Columbus just isn't what it has been in the past. The Hoosiers still hadn't showed the resiliency to beat an elite team on the road.
Until Tuesday night.
Few were giving this Indiana team a legitimate shot, although Tom Crean's club went into the game against No. 4 Michigan State with the No. 1 tag on its resume. Maybe it was history. Indiana hadn't beaten the Spartans in East Lansing since 1991, a streak of 17 consecutive losses. The future Hall of Famer, Tom Izzo, was about to give his former pupil a lesson.
But that streak is history -- and so is the debate as to who is numero uno. There was a school of thought that said Miami deserved the label, since the 'Canes haven't lost a game with their starting unit. Some still believe that when Ryan Kelly returns, the Duke Blue Devils are deserving -- since they were also undefeated before he re-injured his foot.
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But Indiana got a huge road victory against an elite team that was healthy. The Hoosiers did it as a team. Sure, Victor Oladipo once again held the starring role. But Cody Zeller was more aggressive, especially early in the contest. Christian Watford made a couple of mistakes, but he also made a huge three-point play with 1:25 remaining. Freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell played with poise and Jordan Hulls did what he does, knocking down four trifectas.
Indiana committed only10 turnovers in a hostile environment. The Hoosiers had only eight turnovers at Ohio State.
"Huge win for us."
All words that came out of Crean's mouth after the victory. Nothing could be more accurate. Crean & Co. are now in the drivers seat for a Big Ten regular-season title. Could Indiana lose its next game at The Barn against Minnesota next week? Sure, but the Hoosiers have a week to give Oladipo's ankle time to fully heal -- and seven days to prepare for a Gophers team that has been treading water of late. Then there's a pair of home contests against Iowa and Ohio State prior to the regular-season finale in Ann Arbor against Michigan on March 10.
Crean's team is a pleasure to watch. These guys are unselfish, move the ball and understand their roles. They have shooters, guys who can penetrate, an inside presence -- and even a sixth-man in Will Sheehey who could start for about 335 or so teams around the country. They also boast Oladipo, the rags-to-riches story who has become as close to a face of college basketball as we'll have this season. He's a lock-down defender who is now making shots, and leading his team to victory after victory.
Indiana doesn't boast bad losses. All three setbacks have come against NCAA tournament teams. There was the overtime loss to Butler on Dec. 15, the shocking home setback against Wisconsin in mid-January and then the blown defensive assignment which cost the team in Champaign against Illinois.
The résumé has speed bumps, but everyone has endured their share of obstacles this season -- one that has been filled with intrigue and uncertainty. Indiana's mental toughness was also unclear until the last couple weeks. Wins in Columbus and East Lansing have changed that.