It might be easier for Indiana to win amid distractions of NCAA allegations and a coaching change than it will in the usual hostile environment at Michigan State.
The 12th-ranked Hoosiers look to move back into a three-way tie atop the Big Ten standings while trying for their first win at East Lansing in 17 years when they face the No. 19 Spartans on Sunday afternoon.
Indiana (24-4, 13-2) won 72-69 over Ohio State on Tuesday for its fourth straight victory and second in a row since assistant coach and former Hoosiers star Dan Dakich replaced Kelvin Sampson, who resigned on Feb. 22 amid NCAA allegations of five major rules infractions.
It was the Hoosiers’ first home game since Sampson stepped down and gave them another chance to put the incident behind them as they look for their first outright Big Ten title since 1992-93.
“This isn’t about my stamp or anything like that,” said Dakich, whose team can move into a first-place tie with No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 16 Purdue with a win Sunday. “This is about these players and what they had in front of them before (Sampson resigned).”
On Sunday, the Hoosiers face the toughest of their final three league games.
Though Indiana has won four of the last six meetings with the Spartans (22-6, 10-5) - including an 80-61 blowout on Feb. 16 - the Hoosiers have lost their last 13 games in East Lansing dating to a 62-56 win on Feb. 28, 1991.
Michigan State enters this contest on a 20-game winning streak at the Breslin Center, and the home team has won the last seven meetings between these schools.
“It’s difficult to play Michigan State up there,” Dakich said. “This has to be a game we understand is tough and we get prepared for and play as hard and well as we possibly can and go up there and fight.”
On Tuesday, Indiana held Ohio State to 31.0 percent shooting in the first half to take a nine-point lead at the break, then held on as the Buckeyes rallied late.
Armon Bassett went 4-for-8 from 3-point range and finished with 23 points for the Hoosiers, who shot 39.3 percent after shooting 52.9 from the field in their previous three contests.
Big Ten scoring leader Eric Gordon had 17 points with seven turnovers as he battled through cramps and a nagging hand injury.
“He competes, he gets banged, he doesn’t shy away,” Dakich said of Gordon, who had 28 points against Michigan State last month. “I don’t worry about him.”
The Spartans fell for the fourth time in seven games Thursday, 57-42 at Wisconsin. Michigan State shot 34.5 percent in posting its second-lowest point total of the season.
Preseason All-American Drew Neitzel, who will play his final game at the Breslin Center on Sunday, was stymied by the Badgers’ aggressive defense and finished with a season-low three points on 1-for-10 shooting.
“It frustrated Neitzel,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of the senior guard, who averages 13.4 points per game. “By the time he got some open looks in the second half, I think he was frustrated.”
Neitzel has played well of late against Indiana, though, scoring 21 points in last month’s loss and averaging 16.0 in his last three games versus the Hoosiers.