COLUMBUS, Ohio — After a stunning loss, the Indiana Hoosiers were on a mission to reaffirm just how good they were.
There was no questioning their ability Sunday.
Victor Oladipo scored a career-high 26 points, Cody Zeller added 24 and Christian Watford 20 to lead No. 1 Indiana back from a demoralizing loss to a huge road win in beating No. 10 Ohio State 81-68.
“It was putting teams away, playing to win and not just playing for the time to run out,” Zeller said of the lessons learned from an upset loss at Illinois on Thursday. “So, we made that adjustment pretty well.”
Boy, did they. The Hoosiers (21-3, 9-2 Big Ten) dominated the second half while making some history and staying in the thick of the Big Ten race.
“We knew we let one get away from us,” Watford said. “At that point you just have to move on to the next one.”
The Hoosiers were coming off an epic collapse that might have caused the undoing of many teams. The Illini went on a 13-2 run to close the game, with Indiana turning the ball over late and then allowing an uncontested layup at the buzzer of a 74-72 shocker.
Less than three days later, they more than rebounded with a signature win in hostile territory.
The victory was Indiana’s first against a Top-10 conference opponent on the road in more than 20 years — since a win in 1993 at Iowa. It was also the Hoosiers’ first win against any team in the top 10 on the road since beating Notre Dame in 2000.
“From the very beginning after we lost the other night, the biggest thing for our team was we were not going to spend a lot of our time worrying about bouncing back,” coach Tom Crean said. “I’m proud of the way these guys responded from a very tough loss.”
Indiana, now 3-0 against Top-10 teams this year, stayed in lock step with the leaders in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers are now tied with Michigan State (9-2) in the Big Ten standings. Michigan and Wisconsin are next at 8-3, followed by Ohio State at 7-4.
The Hoosiers shot 53 percent from the field, the highest by any Ohio State opponent this season. They did it by pounding the ball to Zeller down low, or hitting open jumpers when they got them. They seldom settled for a quick shot, instead patiently waiting until they could find a teammate who had an even better look.
The Hoosiers — mostly their triumvirate of Oladipo, Zeller and Watford — always seemed to come up with a big play when most needed.
“Today we got a lot of really good basketball from Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller and Christian Watford,” Crean said. “(They) played as well as a triangle — three guys — that you could get. And it was on both ends of the floor.”
Ohio State trailed 43-39 after Deshaun Thomas, an Indiana native and the Big Ten scoring leader who finished with 26 points, hit all three attempts after he was fouled behind the arc by Yogi Ferrell, the Hoosiers’ freshman point guard, who went to the bench with his third foul.
But Oladipo spun and hit a 12-footer in the lane and then tossed in a 3 from the right wing to push the lead to nine points.
Each time the Buckeyes would come up with a basket or defensive stop, Indiana would counter. Watford’s 3 with 9:24 left made it 62-46 and completely deflated a capacity crowd of 18,809.
After Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross, who had 11 points, got a bucket in traffic, Watford flipped in another 3 for a 67-54 lead.
Ohio State got as close as eight points in the final minute but this time the Hoosiers would not collapse. Oladipo closed out the game with four free throws for his career best.
“We definitely learned from it,” Watford said of the Illinois defeat. “That was the main thing from that game. We let one get away but at this point we had to come into a hostile environment and get a win.”
Aaron Craft added 16 points for Ohio State (17-6, 7-4) which dropped two games back of the Big Ten leaders with seven games left, severely crimping their chances of extending their string of three years with at least a share of the conference title.
The nation’s longest run of avoiding a losing streak also ended. Ohio State had gone 121 games without losing back-to-back outings.
“We’d guard and they’d throw it down and (Zeller) was just finishing,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. “We couldn’t gain that momentum. Unfortunately we didn’t guard them at the level we needed to in terms of what they were doing.”