Victor Oladipo carries No. 7 Indiana in big conference win over No. 13 Michigan State

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Despite the hype that greeted then-No. 1 Indiana and its sophomore sensation, Cody Zeller, coming into the season, something has become clearer.

As important as Zeller is to Indiana’s ultimate fate and its national championship hopes this season, junior Victor Oladipo is quickly holding just as much a stake in that future.

On an afternoon when Zeller was off his offensive game and finished with just nine points on 2-of-7 shooting, Oladipo carried the Hoosiers with 21 points in a 75-70 win over Michigan State at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., Sunday.

Oladipo was the catalyst and energy source that the Hoosiers needed. His steal and transition dunk on Michigan State’s opening possession set the pace in the early going for Indiana. The steal was one of six on the afternoon for Oladipo, all part of a performance that should firmly cement him in the conversation for Big Ten Player of the Year and perhaps even enter the race for National Player of the Year.

But in an afternoon where Zeller was not at his best, he still affected the game for Indiana down the stretch. With 1:39 remaining and the shot clock winding down, Zeller drove from well beyond the three-point line, down the left side of the lane for a key layup that put Indiana up by two possessions.

Two Michigan State possessions later, he stepped in front of Michigan State’s Adreian Payne to draw a charge with 0:14 remaining to seal the win.

Michigan State lived on the three-point ball Sunday, going 11-of-23 from distance and starkly contrasting the struggles they endured in in a win over loss to Wisconsin earlier in the week.

Travis Price’s three-pointer brought Michigan State within one, 69-68 with 4:54 to play in the second half.

In hand with that reliance on the outside game, the Spartans also made a more concerted effort to get forwards Payne and Derrick Nix involved around the rim. After taking a combined seven shots against Wisconsin, Payne finished with 18 and Nix had eight.

Perhaps most surprising for Michigan State was the absence of point guard Keith Appling, who took just four shots and finished with three points and four turnovers before fouling out. If there is a silver lining for the Spartans, a struggling Appling on the road at Indiana results in just a five point loss. With all pistons firing, this could have been a different game.

A rematch on Feb. 19 could settle the score.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_