EAST LANSING, Mich. — On two legs, Victor Oladipo might be the best player in college basketball.
As it turns out, the Indiana junior guard isn’t bad on one leg, either.
Playing on a sprained ankle, Oladipo capped a big game by scoring six points in the final 45 seconds, allowing top-ranked Indiana to escape with its first win at Michigan State in 22 years, 72-68 on Tuesday night at the Breslin Center.
“It hurts, but I’m OK with feeling this way after a win,” said Oladipo, who outscored the No. 4 Spartans 6-1 down the stretch and finished with 19 points, nine rebounds and five steals. “I just told myself that I had to stay focused on playing basketball.
“I knew there would be pain, but I wasn’t going to think about that. I didn’t want to think about sitting out and maybe losing this game.”
Indiana took control of the Big Ten race, improving to 12-2 (24-3 overall) while Michigan State dropped to 11-3 (22-5 overall).
Both teams still have to travel to Michigan (22-4, 9-4). Indiana has tough games at Minnesota and home against Ohio State. The Spartans have to go to Columbus and then host the fourth team still in the conference hunt, Wisconsin (18-8, 9-4).
“I told our guys that this was probably going to be the most physical game of the season, at least thus far, and I was right,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “The key was that we weren’t only tough, we were smart. That’s how we walked out of here with a huge win.”
The Spartans were left shaking their heads after blowing a two-possession lead in the last 90 seconds.
“This is a very disappointing loss,” Michigan Sate coach Tom Izzo said. “We had some distractions that took a couple guys out of the game, and it really showed in the first half. We were better in the second half, but I want to make sure that people give Indiana credit. They did most of the things that caused us to struggle.”
In the end, though, the difference was Oladipo on one good leg. He suffered the injury in Saturday’s blowout win over Purdue, but he told everyone who would listen that he was fine as the trip to East Lansing loomed.
“I know he’s been saying he’s OK, but there’s just no way that Victor was even close to 100 percent out there,” Crean said. “He kept saying he was, but you could tell that he wasn’t right.”
It wasn’t like he was scoring easy baskets at the end, either. He gave the Hoosiers a 68-67 lead by tipping in a missed shot with 46 seconds left, then beat Gary Harris down the floor to catch a long pass and dunked for a three-point lead.
Finally, with Harris intentionally missing a free throw — after missing the first of three that could have tied the game — to give the Spartans a chance at a tying putback, Oladipo grabbed the rebound and clinched the game from the line.
“There was no way that Victor was 100 percent; we all knew that,” said Christian Watford, who hit Oladipo on the 60-foot bomb. “But he just kept making great plays and helped us win the game. That’s huge.”
“That has to be the MVP of our league,” Izzo said. “He’s a phenomenal player, and he makes every play they need from him. He’s one of those guys that just refuses to lose, no matter what he has to overcome. I’ve had guys like that, and you love them as a coach.”
To make up for his lack of mobility, Oladipo even used a playground trick to embarrass Spartans freshman Matt Costello. Inbounding the ball under Michigan State’s basket, he bounced it off Costello’s back, grabbed it and laid the ball in for an easy basket.
Even with Oladipo’s big plays and 17 points from Hoosiers 7-footer Cody Zeller, the Spartans walked off the court knowing they could have won the game. They led 66-63 with 1:38 to play, but Harris could only split a pair of free throws. Instead of the lead being five, it was four, and Watford made it 67-66 with a three-point play.
Zeller fouled Keith Appling at the other end, but Michigan State’s star point guard finished an atrocious night by missing the front end of a one-and-one. Instead of a three-point lead, the Hoosiers were still within one, and Oladipo was ready to take center stage.
Appling had a poor game in a loss at Indiana last month, scoring just three points in 19 foul-filled minutes. He wanted to redeem himself on Tuesday, but things went from bad to worse. The junior went 1-for-8 from the floor, missed three free throws and wasn’t his usual self on the defensive end.
“I really don’t know what happened with him,” Izzo said. “I felt bad for him because nothing was going in. He’s usually a great defensive player, but today he let his offensive struggles dictate what he was doing on defense. He just wasn’t himself.”
Michigan State’s final mistake came with 3.7 seconds left, after Indiana’s Will Sheehey fouled Harris on a 3-point attempt. With a chance to tie and possibly force overtime, Harris missed the first free throw. He made the second, but had to intentionally miss the third, and no one was taking the rebound away from Oladipo.
“I didn’t care about my ankle,” he said. “I was just going to keep crashing every board there was.”
Those two rebounds in the last minute — one on each end — mean that the Hoosiers now have a chance at a Big Ten title, the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and a top seed in the Big Dance.
“There are a lot of times that big games don’t live up to their hype,” Crean said. “Here we were, two top-five teams in a crazy arena and with a national audience watching us, and this one lived up to everything. This was a great one to win.”