By Justin Albers
For The Herald Bulletin
CHICAGO, Ill. —
For most of Friday afternoon, Victor Oladipo was uncharacteristically quiet.
The national player of the year candidate known for his gregarious personality and flashy on-court game had only two first-half points in No. 3 Indiana’s 80-64 win over Illinois, and struggled with his outside jump shot.
Instead, Oladipo focused on smothering and frustrating Illinois star guard Brandon Paul, hoping his offensive game would eventually come.
“I was struggling a little bit in the beginning,” Oladipo admitted, “but I just kept grinding and kept staying focused, and kept playing defense and rebounding. I might not be able to control if the ball goes in, but I can definitely control if I can rebound and play defense.”
As he usually does, Oladipo found multiple ways to impact the game. And in the second half, he started to do so on the offensive end of the court, too.
Oladipo finished with 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting, 11 rebounds and a steal in 31 minutes. All 10 of Oladipo’s second-half points came in the final six minutes, 37 seconds of the contest.
“But I don’t think the stat sheet tells the story with him,” said Illinois coach John Groce. “Defensively, he is terrific. He’s as good a defender on the perimeter as we played against all year.
“Now you add his things he brings to the table from an offensive scoring perspective and his rebounding and that makes him even more potent.”
The Hoosiers had a sizable lead on Illinois in the teams’ first meeting, too, but lost the game down the stretch because of an inability to close the game out. There would be none of that on Friday afternoon. Oladipo was a big reason why.
“There’s no question we learned a lot from that game,” Oladipo said. “We watched it again last night. We learned things from that game that we apply in every game we play.”
On the defensive end, Oladipo held Paul to 16 points on 2-of-13 shooting while forcing three turnovers. Paul scored 25 points in Thursday’s first-round game against Minnesota, including the game winner as time expired. He struggled to gain room to breath against Oladipo.
“They get into you,” Paul said. “Obviously, Oladipo is a great defender.”
And then when Indiana needed baskets to put away the Illini late, Oladipo provided them. He put the finishing touches on the game late with a 360-degree dunk in transition that had the entire United Center crowd in awe.
“I’d give it an ‘8,’” junior forward Will Sheehey said. “You should see what he can do. He can do better than that.”
Added freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell: “I’ve seen it all. So anything you guys see that you think is ‘Wow!’ I just think is normal from him.”
When he addressed the media after the game, Oladipo got numerous questions about the dunk that sealed the deal. Each time, he smiled, assuring reporters it was a “safe” dunk and that he could do better.
Oladipo may have had a slow start on Friday, but unlike the first time Indiana played Illinois, he and the Hoosiers had no trouble finishing.
“They’ve seen (that dunk) a few times,” Oladipo said of his teammates, “so I guess I just gotta bring out all the stuff in my goody bag.”