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COLUMN

Indiana basketball lesson -- go inside, win big

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Tipoff: Nebraska at Indiana,7 p.m. Wednesday
RADIO: 1250-AM
TV: BTN

Online: For more on Indiana athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Hoosiers get top-10 win at Ohio State

Monday, February 11, 2013 - 12:47 am

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Of course Cody Zeller heard it. All the Indiana Hoosiers did, when they weren't watching about a gazillion replays of the final few minutes of the Illinois debacle.

Get the ball inside. Get it to Zeller, a college player of the year contender. Get Zeller to demand the ball, to be aggressive, for goodness sakes.

Mission accomplished.

Well, at least for one game.

There was Zeller at Ohio State's Value City Arena, getting the ball in the post, on the perimeter, wherever he seemingly wanted it Sunday afternoon. He is 7-foot and 240 pounds, and he used all of that to muscle Ohio State center Amir Williams and any other Buckeye who got in his way into can't miss range.

The result -- Zeller went 8-for-11 from the field, 8-for-11 from the line for a season-high tying 24 points. Along the way he helped foul out forward Evan Ravenel and get four fouls on Williams.

Oh, yes. Top-ranked IU smacked No. 10 Ohio State 81-68 at an arena where the Buckeyes are nearly invincible (67-5 at home in the last four seasons).

IU is just about unstoppable when it goes inside. Then everything flows on offense, spaces open on the perimeter, driving lanes appear in the lane, player freedom is everywhere good decision making resides.

It is offense as coach Tom Crean has always wanted it.

So why not do it all the time?

If only it were that easy.

“It's (easier) said than done to throw it inside,” Zeller said. “With how (opponents are) playing me and with ball pressure, it's a lot tougher than it sounds to throw it in the post.”

That's been the season-long knock on Zeller and the Hoosiers, that he doesn't get the ball enough. The latest example was last Thursday at Illinois, when he took only six shots against a defense designed to take away his touches and opportunities.

To be fair, Zeller does lead IU in scoring (16.5 points) and rebounding (8.3). He did win Big Ten co-offensive player of the week last week.

Crean talks about perspective and pressure, and how it is different for Zeller given he began the season on the Sports Illustrated cover as opposed to Crean's Marquette superstar, Dwyane Wade, who made it at the end of a Final Four run a decade or so ago.

Crean doesn't push individual accolades. He's a team-first coach, recognizing that other coaches are more promotion friendly.

Still, in Zeller and guard Victor Oladipo (a career-high-matching 26 points, eight rebounds and two steals against Ohio State), he has two national player of the year candidates. Not too far behind is forward Christian Watford, an All-Big Ten contender who added 20 points and six rebounds

“Victor and Cody and Christian played as well of a triangle as you could get -- on both ends of the floor,” Crean said. “I won't change my pace. I'm not into the promotion. If we keep wining and they keep doing what they can do, it gets better.

“Sometimes I feel like I have to defend them, especially Cody. I wouldn't trade Cody for anybody. Most coaches around the country would like to have him. Most would like to have Victor. When you have a couple guys like that, who keep getting better, it speaks for itself.”

And if sometimes people overlook it, Oladipo doesn't shy away from speaking.

“We know each other's tendencies. I know where Cody likes the ball. I know where he can find me if I cut. We complement each other very well.

“We have to bring it on both ends of the floor. That's why we play so well together, because we push the defense and establish Cody and Christian inside.”

Ohio State's inside was vulnerable. Buckeye guard Aaron Craft rivals Oladipo as the nation's best defender, but at 6-2 he's no match for the likes of Zeller. At least on Sunday, Williams and Ravenel were no match for Zeller or Watford.

“We both wanted to be aggressive,” Zeller said. “A lot of good things happen, even when we don't score, when we get the ball We attract a lot of attention, and can kick it out for threes and drives. It gets our offense going.”

For all of those reasons, and more, IU (21-3 overall) bounced back from the Illinois loss to win for just the second time in the last eight trips to Columbus. It was the Hoosiers' first road win against a top-10 team since winning at Notre Dame in 2000.

“We all had confidence we could do it,” Zeller said. “It gives us momentum going into some tough games coming up. Hopefully we keep it going.”

IU did everything but stop Ohio State junior forward Deshaun Thomas, which puts them on par with everybody us. The former Bishop Luers standout matched Oladipo's 26 points, six above his Big Ten-leading average, although he needed 20 shots to do it. He added seven rebounds while playing the entire game.

His 1,360 career points rank No. 26 in school history.

“Deshaun Thomas played 40 minutes,” Crean said, “and he really didn't look tired at the end. He's an excellent player. You've got to keep bringing (defensive) looks and coverages to a team like Ohio State.”

Thomas and the rest of the Buckeyes (17-6, 7-4) fell victim to Big Ten brutality. They played the nation's No. 1 and No. 3 (Michigan) teams in the last five days and went 0-2.

“Coming off the Michigan loss we showed heart,” Thomas said. “We fought hard. We knew Indiana was a good team. We thought we had our minds right. This game they were ready to play. They kept their composure when we made runs.”

Indiana's composure almost certainly won't let it keep the No. 1 ranking (the polls come out today), but it did earn itself a first-place Big Ten tie with Michigan State, at 8-2.

For now, that's enough.

For now.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.