Even before the injuries came and IU Coach Archie Miller's rotation of players became smaller, Devonte Green and Zach McRoberts had displayed their value.
Green hadn't been used extensively as a starter during his three-year IU career, but he proved himself as a scoring spark plug off the bench.
The junior guard averaged almost eight points per game last season and was third on the team in total assists as a sophomore. Despite being hampered by injuries as early as IU's closed scrimmage against Loyola-Chicago on Oct. 28, he already displayed his scoring flare this season when he was substituted into games to replace freshman starting guard Rob Phinisee.
McRoberts has been labeled as a prototypical hardworking, gritty player by Miller and IU fans alike. The fifth-year senior developed more of a shooting touch this offseason to compliment his hustle on defense, further endearing himself to those clad in cream and crimson inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
A thigh injury sidelined Green, while McRoberts was forced to sit out due to a lower back strain, during a four-game stretch from Nov. 14 to Nov. 27. In that time, IU put on a dazzling home performance against a ranked Marquette University team before losing at the University of Arkansas and recording lackluster wins against the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of California at Davis.
Both players returned for IU's trip to then-No. 3 Duke last week, and while neither could stop a blowout loss to the Blue Devils, their presence has been felt in IU's recent two wins.
"It's not fair to those two guys to evaluate them, obviously, with their first game back in Cameron Indoor," Miller said Nov. 30. "It was good to get them out there and I think that's the first step, but there won't be any restrictions unless it's obviously something that arises."
McRoberts didn't score in a home win against Northwestern, but he made a trademark diving play in the second half to save a ball heading out of bounds on an IU offensive possession, which ended with a jump shot made by freshman guard Romeo Langford.
Prior to the game, McRoberts had said the start of Big Ten play, a period which the Hoosiers went 2-0 in, matters as much now as it will in March when both the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments take place.
For his part, Green hit consecutive three-pointers for IU in Tuesday's road win at Penn State, although his temporary scoring spurt soon gave way to turnovers against Penn State's pressing defense. It continued the theme of Green providing Jekyll and Hyde-type performances when trying to energize the Hoosier offense.
"I wish I could bring a spark, coming off the bench or not," Green said after the Northwestern game. "But I'm just working my way into it."
More than anything else, the returns of Green and McRoberts to game action have given Miller the chance to utilize his team's much talked about depth, something that didn't exist with both players injured.
"It's one thing in a game, not having a lot of depth, but also hurts us in practice not being able to go against guys, is hard," McRoberts said Nov. 30. "Because we don't have a lot of subs in practice. It's definitely helped us and I think we'll only be more prepared because of it."
It hasn't been just the injuries suffered by Green and McRoberts reducing the number of available players for Miller. Despite having only played nine games, the Hoosiers have been without freshman forwards Jerome Hunter and Race Thompson for virtually the entire season, and upperclassmen forwards De'Ron Davis and Juwan Morgan have also had their own scares with the injury bug.
When asked what is the hardest part of losing so many players to injury in a short period of time, Green referenced the mental effect it can have on the team's other players.
"I think mentally staying together as a team, mentally staying with the everyday recovery," Green said.
Depth was championed as a strong point of this IU team during the preseason, and after a brief period of uncertainty, it appears the pieces are beginning to be healthy enough to fall back into place.
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