No. 4 MSU falls to No. 1 Indiana, misses chance to rule Big Ten
Days of anticipation had led to this moment.
The first-ever top-five clash in East Lansing.
First place in the Big Ten on the line.
Tom Izzo had said one day earlier this was the type of moment college basketball was all about and, as the final seconds ticked down, the Breslin Center crowd stood on its feet, providing the deafening noise and raucous atmosphere many had expected.
A mere 90 seconds later those same fans still stood in their seats, but the sound was gone.
In its place, a deafening silence that comes from a team, and a fan base, getting absolutely stunned.
The No. 4 MSU men’s basketball team (22-5 overall, 11-3 Big Ten) let a four-point lead in the game’s final minute and a half slip away, falling in heartbreaking fashion to No. 1 Indiana (24-3, 12-2), 72-68, Tuesday night.
It was the Hoosiers’ first win in East Lansing since 1991, propelling them into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
“They came in our place, and we should be eight to 10 points better and control the large part of the game,” Izzo said. “They outplayed us. We didn’t play very good and they had a lot to do with it.
… We still had our chances, if we make some plays ourself, make some free throws, we still win the game. But it was two good teams. … I thought Indiana played awfully hard the whole game and deserved to win.”
After a back-and-forth opening five minutes, Indiana used a 10-3 run to take a lead — 18-14 with 13 minutes to go in the first half — they would maintain for the rest of the half.
The Hoosiers’ lead grew to as many as eight points behind a 7-2 run, as MSU junior center Adreian Payne sat on the bench with foul trouble, missing the final 6:52 of the first half.
Junior guard Keith Appling said he felt this was a bigger game than the one just a week ago against archrival Michigan, so there was no reason for a lack of energy.
The hardest part was walking away from a defeat against Indiana a second time, and both times feeling as if the Hoosiers didn’t get the Spartans’ best shot.
“It’s tough. That’s the worst part about it because we feel like we had so much more to give,” Appling said. “There’s nothing we can do about it now, but prepare for our next opponent and try not to let the feeling linger.”
MSU looked like a different team coming out of the locker room, rallying for an 11-3 run to take the lead, 49-48, with 13:22 remaining, capturing the Spartans’ first lead since the opening five minutes of the game.
But the Hoosiers had an answer, responding with a 9-2 run, highlighted by a fast break 3-pointer from guard Jordan Hulls.
Needing a spark, MSU turned to Payne, who took the ball from the 3-point line and drove hard to the rim, finishing with a powerful one-handed dunk that brought the crowd to its feet.
The dunk was part of a 9-2 run that helped MSU retake the lead, 60-59, with 6:30 to go, but the junior center said the lesson to take away from the game was simple.
“We can’t have another game like this,” said Payne, who finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. “(The foul trouble was) very frustrating because my team needed me, and I wasn’t there for them.”
From there, the game remained neck-and-neck the rest of the way, with neither team taking a lead of more than four points.
A free throw from freshman guard Gary Harris put MSU in front 67-63 with 1:37 remaining, but five consecutive points from Indiana, capped off by a tip-in from forward Victor Oladipo helped Indiana surge back in front, 68-67 with 43 seconds remaining.
On MSU’s ensuing possession, the Spartans went back to Harris, who drove to the rim and was unable to finish through contact, giving Indiana the ball back with 13.8 seconds remaining.
After the Spartans forced Indiana to inbound the ball a second time, the Hoosiers found Oladipo streaking to the basket for a dunk, extending Indiana’s lead to 70-67 with 10 seconds to go.
Needing a three to tie, MSU found Harris, who got Indiana guard Will Sheehey in the air and drew a foul on a 3-point attempt with 3.7 seconds remaining.
Harris missed the first free throw, but hit the second, leading Harris to intentionally miss the third, in hopes of MSU grabbing an offensive rebound.
The shot missed, but it was Oladipo who came down with the rebound and calmly hit both of his free throws to seal the victory for Indiana.
“We were right there, man. We had them at the end,” said Harris, who scored a team-high 19 points.
“We just came out flat. We came out better in the second half, but we can’t do that playing against the No. 1 team in the country.”
Moving forward, Appling said the team must respond the same way they did after the last loss to Indiana, with a renewed mindset that helped them win five consecutive games.
“We’ve just got to accept the fact that they came in and …outplayed us,” Appling said. “We’ve just got to use it as motivation for our next couple games … because those games can go a way we don’t want them to go if we play like we played tonight. We know we’ve got to play harder and when we do play hard, we usually come out with a win.”