Velimir Radinovic scored a career-high 23 points and added 10 rebounds, leading Ohio State to a 59-56 win in Bloomington Saturday.
The Buckeyes (12-13, 4-8) out-muscled the Hoosiers (12-12, 6-7) in the post all evening. Terence Dials powered his way to 16 points and 10 boards.
"I'm really, really proud of our guys right now," OSU head coach Jim O'Brien told WBNS radio. "This was not an easy game for us. I know Indiana has been struggling their last few games, but we did everything that we absolutely needed to do to win.
"When we came into this game, we talked in terms of our advantage around the basket and we really needed to exploit that edge that we had. Our guys were terrific at searching for that."
Behind a pair of nice baskets from Dials, Ohio State led 9-7 at the first media timeout (13:20). It was clear from the start that OSU was going to pound the ball inside all night. The Hoosiers came equipped with 6-foot-11 center George Lynch, but very little else in the post.
Then Lynch picked up his second foul at the 12:15 mark of the half, leaving the 6-foot-3 A.J. Moye and rail-thin Pat Ewing Jr. trying to handle Radinovic and Dials inside.
The Bucks' largest lead of the first half came at 19-16 with 3:25 left.
They held on for a 23-21 advantage at halftime on a runner from Tony Stockman a few seconds before the buzzer.
The second half began with a 10-5 run from the Hoosiers, giving them a 31-28 lead with 15:59 remaining.
However, back came the Buckeyes, who were brilliantly stubborn in repeatedly feeding the post.
Radinovic and Dials could not be denied and OSU quickly grabbed the lead back, with its largest lead coming at 48-44 with 6:30 remaining.
However, just when it was looking good for OSU, Indiana responded with a 7-0 run and seemed to take control of the game. The Hoosiers suddenly led 51-48 with the Assembly Hall crowd finally coming to life.
Indiana held the lead until the 2:00 mark, when Radinovic dropped in a turnaround, making the count 54-all.
Then, after a defensive stand, Dials sank a short turnaround of his own, giving the Bucks a 56-54 lead with 1:06 left.
Bracey Wright then made two free throws to tie it up with 45 second left, setting the stage for an unlikely hero.
J.J. Sullinger, who has struggled much of the season, made a quick move down the baseline for a running jumper and a 58-56 Buckeye lead with just 16.7 seconds left.
Moye then missed a 3-pointer and Dials went high to corral the rebound with 4.1 seconds showing.
"The Diesel" knocked down 1-of-2 for a 59-56 lead. Indiana's near mid-court heave at the buzzer missed and the Bucks kept their NIT hopes alive.
O'Brien, always a good bench coach, was obviously pleased to see his game-plan carried out to perfection.
"The thing that stands out to me about Velimir and Terence is not their high percentage, because they do that every game, but the fact that they took 28 shots," he said. "I think that's a credit to the other guys finding them."
Radinovic was 10 of 14 from the floor and Dials was 7 of 14.
As usual, O'Brien mixed up the defenses all night, keeping the Hoosiers on their heels.
"I think our guys did a good job adjusting to the different defenses," O'Brien said. "We played a number of different defenses."
The coach was asked why he went with Harris and Smith in the starting lineup.
"It's all about trying to get a feel for how the game is going," O'Brien said. "And we really felt the need to shake things up. I thought Shaun Smith had a couple real good days of practice and Ivan had a real good game the other night.
"You can't just stay with the status quo, so sometimes we just rattle a few cages as they say. But everybody responded very well."
GAME NOTES: The Buckeyes are now 11-1 when leading at halftime. … Wright, the Big Ten's second leading scorer at 19.8 points per game, was held to nine. … Marshall Strickland led Indiana with 13 points. … No word if OSU will have "Double, double-double" T-shirts made in recognition of Radinovic and Dials. … Dials has recently developed a left hand and continues to add moves to his arsenal. He really has a chance to be the dominant big man in this league the next two seasons. … One area the Bucks are lacking this year is scoring off in-bounds passes underneath the basket. O'Brien is usually the master of it, but OSU has very few cheap ones this year. Maybe the league has finally wised up, or maybe this is one of things they missed working on in the preseason when OB was out. … OSU shot an even 50 percent from the field (25 of 50). … Indiana shot a brisk 33 percent (18 of 54). … The Buckeyes won the rebounding battle 34-29. … OSU was sloppy with the ball much of the night, committing 16 turnovers. … Indiana had just eight. … Harris' start was his second in a Buckeye uniform and he responded with zero points and one rebound. … The Buckeyes get back in action Saturday at last-place Minnesota at 8 p.m.