COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Rebuilding the Indiana basketball program since his arrival in Bloomington in 2008, Tom Crean has watched Ohio State sit on the Big Ten's mountaintop. Amassing a 1-7 record in the past four seasons against the three-time defending conference champion, the now No. 1-ranked Hoosiers (21-3, 9-2) were never quite capable of claiming to be on the same level as the Buckeyes, which made their 81-68 win over No. 10 OSU (17-6, 7-4) on Sunday all the more meaningful.
"It's a big deal," Crean said. "Ohio State is really, really good. We have at times not had the firepower to be able to compete with them. And then last year, as we were getting better, we didn't have the toughness to compete with them here."
That wasn't the case on Sunday.
In one of its most complete efforts of the season, Indiana bounced back from its 74-72 loss to Illinois on Thursday with a dominant performance against the Buckeyes. The Hoosiers shot 53.1 percent from the field and had three players reach the 20-point mark in scoring, with Victor Oladipo leading the way with a career-high 26 points, Cody Zeller scoring 24 points, and Christian Watford adding 20 points.
"They're good players. They didn't force the issue," Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas said of IU's trio. "They came in and they was relaxed, and they played their game. They didn't let no distractions get to them, and they played real well."
Thomas scored 26 points of his own on Sunday, but the Indiana native's effort wasn't enough for a Buckeye team that didn't have another player join him in double-digit scoring until there was 3:26 remaining in the game. Unable to match the Hoosiers' trifecta of Oladipo, Zeller, and Watford, never was OSU's need for a consistent second scorer more apparent than it was on Sunday.
"We didn't shoot an awful percentage," Craft said. "We're a good transition team, we just didn't have many because they were making so many shots, they were getting offensive rebounds. We just gotta put the ball in the bucket. It's nothing special."
Shooting 43.3 percent from the field in the second half, the Buckeyes' impressive shooting percentage was met by an even more impressive 58.8 percent Indiana effort. The Hoosiers led by as many as 16 points in the second half, and never let Ohio State get any closer than within eight points of their lead in the game's final 14 minutes.
The first half was more closely contested, with four lead changes and the Hoosiers clinging to a 33-29 lead through the game's first 18 minutes. Indiana, however, seized control of the game heading into halftime, after Oladipo converted a reverse lay-up alley-oop from Jordan Hulls, a play that he topped just moments later when he turned an offensive rebound off of a Zeller miss into a thunderous dunk to help give his team a 41-33 lead heading into halftime.
"The one play that was crucial was the tap out and Oladipo gets it and dunks it," OSU coach Thad Matta said. "We couldn't gain that momentum. We didn't guard them at the level that we needed to guard them in terms of what they were doing."
After losing in overtime to No. 3 Michigan on Tuesday, the Buckeyes' loss on Sunday marks the first time since Jan 3, 2010 that the program has suffered consecutive defeats. More currently, it also puts OSU two games back of the lead for the conference's regular season championship, with seven games remaining until the Big Ten Tournament.
The Buckeyes will look to end their first losing streak in more than three years on Thursday, when they'll host Northwestern (13-11, 4-7) for a 7 p.m. tipoff.
"We got a few games left and every one of them is going to be a dogfight just like these two were," Craft said. "The people are different, the faces are different, but every game's tough. We're used to it."