EAST LANSING, Mich. — In a bustling hallway inside the Breslin Student Events Center filled with arena employees lugging coolers and suitcases past him, junior forward De’Ron Davis’ eyes grew big and his voice remained steady.
He wanted to talk about respect and the lack of it he feels IU receives from the rest of the Big Ten Conference.
After contributing 12 points, six rebounds and three free throws in the final 11 seconds of overtime during IU’s 79-75 win at No. 6 Michigan State on Feb. 2 in East Lansing, Michigan, Davis earned the right to do so.
“The league doesn’t respect us, coaches don’t respect us,” Davis said. “So we gotta have the respect from our coaching staff, from our team. I feel like this win opened us up.”
Time will tell if Davis’ prediction pays off, but one could excuse him for being overly confident following IU’s upset win. The victory, which snapped a seven-game losing streak for IU and improves its record to 13-9 overall and 4-7 in conference play, became increasingly more unlikely as the night went on.
No moment better punctuated the uncertainty surrounding the game, and perhaps IU's season, than with 6:04 remaining in the first half. Senior forward Juwan Morgan dove for a loose ball for IU and remained on the ground, writhing in pain while grabbing his left shoulder. Morgan exited the game before returning still in uniform but only to sit on the IU bench and provide instruction to his teammates.
While IU Head Coach Archie Miller did not expand on Morgan’s injury or its severity after the game, Davis still credited Morgan with helping the Hoosiers execute late in the second half and overtime from his spot on the bench.
“Honestly, in my opinion it felt like he was still out there,” Davis said. “‘Cause every time you came back to the bench he was talking to us, especially me, telling me to keep going and telling me where the defense is and what I need to do.”
Morgan’s 13 minutes of game action resulted in just five points for an IU team usually reliant on him and freshman guard Romeo Langford to generate offense. But instead of one player stepping up to fill the scoring void, it was a collection of Hoosiers.
Led by Langford’s 19 points, eight different Hoosiers scored in the game, including five in double figures. IU’s 28 bench points were the team's most since bench players scored 36 in a December win against the University of Central Arkansas.
With Morgan on the bench for the final 31 minutes of the game, IU's offense found a way to grow more effective.
“That just made us have to move the ball a little bit more,” Langford said. “Our guys come into practice each day to get better and be ready for when their name is called and that’s exactly what happened tonight.”
IU’s 28-16 advantage in bench points came along with a surprising 48-40 rebounding advantage for the Hoosiers against the Spartans. Depth and interior size have been noted as deficiencies for this IU team, but along with the spread-out scoring, five different Hoosiers had five or more rebounds in the win.
Distance shooting also became an unexpected positive for IU, as 3-pointers became an avenue through which the Hoosiers were able to quell the crowd when the Spartans threatened to go on scoring runs.
After making just 13 3-pointers in their last three games combined, IU went 10-20 from behind the arc, with sophomore guard Al Durham and junior guard Devonte Green each making three. Even senior forward Evan Fitzner made a 3-pointer, his first in nine games.
“It’s just amazing when a guy makes an unselfish pass,” Miller said. “Or the correct read on a drive or one more pass when a guy is open, when he reads the ball screen and delivers it. It’s amazing how those balls go in. It’s amazing how the other balls don’t go in when there’s just absolutely zero chemistry out there.”
Chemistry and confidence, two words championed by Miller during IU’s losing streak, came to IU in spades in the closing minutes of regulation and overtime, allowing players like Davis to entertain the idea of once again becoming a feared team in one of college basketball’s most competitive conferences.
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