It did not take long to get the answer.
The junior guard’s left ankle showed few, if any, ill effects on the surface as Oladipo led IU with 19 points and, with a national audience tuned in, continued to burnish a case for player of the year.
“There was no question,” Oladipo said. “Maybe from everybody else, but you’d have had to kill me to miss this one.”
By Tuesday, all signs pointed toward Oladipo playing. IU Coach Tom Crean revealed he always expected the junior to play, but whether he would be his usual self remained to be seen. He appeared unhindered in warm-ups, with just a small bandage wrap poking out of his shoe.
“Being able to play and level of effectiveness, those are night and day things,” Crean said. “He’s tried his best the last few days to be himself, but he really hasn’t been. But his maturity and his level of toughness, it went up a little bit.”
He started, as he has in every game this season. By the first media timeout he had already scored, grabbed a rebound and stolen the ball.
Coming out of the timeout was a reminder that the star — and his ankle — had to be handled with care this evening. Oladipo was the first IU player to come out of the game. Junior forward Will Sheehey, Saturday’s hero against Purdue, took his place.
He remained on the bench less than two minutes and would go on to play 30 minutes, 2.3 minutes more than his season average entering Tuesday.
By halftime, he led IU in points, rebounds and steals. He also had IU’s only block of the period, a swat that rocketed the ball out of bounds and nearly decapitated a writer covering the game.
With several breakaway dunks, including one in the final seconds that broke through the Michigan State press and essentially sealed the victory, Oladipo largely stuck to his traditional up-and-down style in IU’s up-tempo transition offense.
Seconds early, he flew in from the perimeter to tip in a lay-up by freshman guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell that gave IU the lead for good.
“The play that was the killer was the tip-in,” Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said. “What happened was he has incredible heart, and he just did what he does.”
From a spectator’s perspective, at least, his ankle appeared fine.
His hands might have been even better. Oladipo nabbed five steals Tuesday night after swiping six in IU’s first win against Michigan State in Assembly Hall.
“He watches a lot of film,” Crean said. “Obviously, he’s got the reflexes, the instincts, the strength, the speed, but he watches a lot of film.”
Not only did Oladipo start Tuesday, but he finished as well. After the tip-in, after the final breakaway dunk, it was who else but Oladipo who sank two free throws to finalize the margin of victory.
“Victor Oladipo wasn’t close to 100 percent tonight,” Crean said. “He wasn’t close. The way he played was excellent, but the way he finished, when he was winded, there’s no doubt that his foot hurt. He may tell you differently, but I’ve been around him a long time. I know when he’s right and I know when he’s not right. I know that that mind was right, and that’s the biggest thing.”
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