Indiana Hoosiers maturing with key road win in Columbus

The Indiana Hoosiers finally got that much-needed resume road win.

A year ago, Tom Crean's team was 3-6 in league play away from Assembly Hall. All three of those road wins came against teams outside of the top five in the Big Ten. There were road losses to Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.

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This year's group knocked off Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern and Purdue away from home so far, but the Big Ten schedule was back-loaded with difficult games. Then came the loss in Champaign earlier this week against a mediocre and enigmatic Illinois club, and the questions surfaced. Again. Is this team tough enough?  Does it have a go-to guy that can make a play with the game on the line?

But a convincing victory in Columbus against an Ohio State team that took care of Michigan on its home floor should silence some of the critics.

This Indiana team is as good as any in America -- especially when Christian Watford is engaged and Cody Zeller is assertive, as was the case Sunday afternoon. Sure, there have been slip-ups: the loss down the road in Indianapolis to Butler, the home setback against Wisconsin -- and the last-second loss on a defensive mishap against Illinois just days ago.

But Indiana may have the highest ceiling of anyone in the nation. Crean's team has everything necessary to cut down the nets in April. Zeller may not be the best big man in the country, but he's in the conversation. Victor Oladipo may not be the best perimeter defender in the country, but he's in the conversation. Jordan Hulls may not be the best shooter in the country, but he's in the conversation.

When Watford shows up, though, this team rises to a different level. Watford was a factor Sunday, and it's no coincidence his Hoosiers didn't have much difficulty with Ohio State in an 81-68 win.

Sure, there may not be a clear-cut answer as to who is Indiana's go-to guy. But this team doesn't necessarily need one. Crean has multiple options he can choose from with the game on the line. He can exploit a defensive matchup if he'd like -- or just run his offense and use the array of weapons at his disposal in order to obtain an uncontested shot. That could be Zeller in the paint, Oladipo driving the ball, Hulls shooting it from deep, Watford taking whatever the defense gives him or freshman Yogi Ferrell making a play with the ball in his hands. Even sixth-man Will Sheehey is more than capable of providing a key bucket.

Zeller finished with 24 points on 11 shots Sunday and was aggressive. Oladipo had 26, and Watford made four 3-pointers and added 20.

This Ohio State team is somewhat one-dimensional on the offensive end. Stop Deshaun Thomas and your chances are high of knocking off the Buckeyes. However, a win in Columbus is still impressive. Thad Matta's home record coming into the game was 67-4 over the past four seasons.

This was a key victory for Indiana, and it has nothing to do with whether the Hoosiers will remain in the No. 1 spot when the polls are released Monday. This proved Crean's team has begun to mature into a group that can't just beat teams on the road. It can finally take down quality ones away from home.

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