From Michigan State’s perspective, there was simply too much Victor Oladipo and not enough Keith Appling.
Oladipo showed why he’s one of the most complete players in college basketball — and should be seriously considered for Big Ten Player of the Year — by leading No. 7 Indiana to a 75-70 victory over No. 13 Michigan State on Sunday afternoon at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
Oladipo did a little bit of everything to move the Hoosiers into first place in the conference. He stuffed the stat sheet with 21 points, seven rebounds, six steals and three blocks in 30 minutes.
Appling, the key player for the Spartans, finished with three points, no assists and four turnovers while playing only 19 minutes because of constant foul trouble. He ended up fouling out with 5:17 remaining.
“Even that 19, half of it was with fouls,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said during his postgame radio show. “We got nothing out of Keith.”
The Big Ten has a reputation for playing ugly, low-scoring games at times, but that wasn’t the case in this one.
It was as entertaining as college basketball gets in January.
Both teams pushed the ball with an up-tempo mentality throughout most of the game. They combined for 19 3-pointers (11 by MSU). Indiana shot 50.9 percent from the field.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t at the expense of the tenacity that is typical of of teams coached by Izzo and Indiana’s Tom Crean, one of Izzo’s former assistants.
Oladipo, a junior guard, is arguably the nation’s most improved player this season. Few players make a bigger impact on a game than he did on Sunday.
“He brings a lot of energy,” teammate Christian Watford told reporters after the game. “He gets us open by the way he attacks the basket.”
More important, Oladipo creates opportunities with his relentless defensive style.
“I have to bring it every night on both ends of the floor so my team can win,” Oladipo said.
Indiana (18-2, 6-1) threatened to pull away several times, but Michigan State (17-4, 6-2) competed hard in a hostile environment.
With Appling on the bench, the Spartans needed more from players such as freshman guard Gary Harris, who delivered in his first appearance back in his home state.
Harris, who was Mr. Basketball last season in Indiana before bolting for East Lansing, hit five 3-pointers and led Michigan State with 21 points.
It was not a warm homecoming from Hoosiers fans for Harris, who took his share of verbal abuse.
“To come here and get booed and ridiculed and all the things that happen when you’re a hometown boy and you leave . . . for him to play the game he did, I thought spoke volumes about the kind of kid he is and the toughness he has,” Izzo said.
Michigan State also got a big lift from center Adreian Payne, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds. Payne, who had made four 3-pointers in 91 career games going into Sunday, surprised the Hoosiers with three from long range.
While the Spartans couldn’t overcome Appling’s rough day, the Hoosiers prevailed even though their leading scorer, Cody Zeller, wasn’t quite himself for most of the afternoon.
Zeller scored only nine points on 2-for-7 shooting, but he did come through with a couple key plays at the end.
First, his drive down the middle of the lane gave Indiana a 74-70 lead with 1:38 left. Zeller then took a charge against Payne with 14.3 seconds to go, putting an end to the Spartans’ comeback bid.
Even on their worst days, standout players need to make timely contributions. Zeller did just that while Appling watched from the bench.
“We didn’t have our key guy to make the plays,” Izzo said. “Usually we put it in Appling’s hand, and we (basically) didn’t have Appling the whole second half.”
The Spartans also missed Appling defensively. Reserve guard Travis Trice often failed to stop penetration.
Indiana now plays three of its next four games on the road, including Wednesday at Purdue. The only home game during that stretch is a nationally televised, primetime showdown Saturday against No. 2 Michigan.
Michigan State, meanwhile, is at home for its next two — Thursday against Illinois and Feb. 6 against Minnesota.
While disappointed that his team lost its grip on first place, Izzo liked what he saw, for the most part, under the circumstances.
“I’ll take away a lot more good than I will bad,” he said. “Every time we went down, we battled back. That shows a lot of character in a team, especially in a place like this.”