CHAMPAIGN — Devonte Green returned the favor.
When junior forward De’Ron Davis whipped a pass to Green from the top of the key early in the second half of IU’s matchup at Illinois Thursday, the junior guard side-stepped through a maze of Illini defenders littered throughout the lane and finished at the rim for two points.
As Green gathered himself down low, he immediately stuck his index finger into the air back in Davis’ direction as both impressed admiration and a deserved thank you for the perfectly timed pass.
Yet Davis was already shooting a pointed finger back at Green as he backpedaled down the court on defense, signifying he had just as much appreciation for Green’s cut to set up the play in the first place.
It was one of many intriguing moments of basketball bliss between the two in the Hoosiers’ 92-74 victory over Illinois.
The two combined for 20 points, six rebounds, nine assists and most importantly, one turnover. It also showed just how paramount a role the duo plays in IU’s overall success when they play well.
Green and Davis have had a strange and twisty journey during their three seasons in Bloomington. From Davis’ knees struggling to carry the load of his 6-foot-10, 255-pound frame to Green’s well-documented bouts with inconsistency that could drive the mildest of mannered men to hair-pulling rage, it’s been a weird ride for the Tom Crean era recruits.
Yet when those two are playing at their best, like they have been recently, their team is at its best as well. It’s no coincidence during this three-game stretch in which the Hoosiers have rediscovered some relevancy, Green and Davis have been key contributors off the bench.
In IU’s 75-73 victory Feb. 26 over Wisconsin, Davis stepped in to play vital minutes on both offense and defense after senior forward Juwan Morgan and sophomore forward Justin Smith both fouled out, slogging through the double-overtime thriller despite fatigue being an undeniable factor for the big man.
When the Hoosiers turned around and took down Michigan State 63-62 March 2, it was Green’s turn to contribute, stepping in as a legitimate scoring threat to putting up 13 points off the bench.
Against Illinois, the two synchronized their quality performances, which played a huge part in one of IU’s most prolific offensive outings of the entire season.
Yet what the duo offers as weapons off the bench is only part of the added dynamic they bring to this team.
Let’s be honest, when Miller allows those two to get a little crazy and run free like a couple of wild stallions, it simply makes this team’s offensive approach significantly more fun to watch. Sure, they’re bound to make mistakes at times but when they’re playing with the focus they’ve shown as of late, the good outweighs the bad.
When it comes to the depth many once thought IU had coming into this season, expectations have fallen somewhat flat and at this point, Davis and Green are the key contributors off the bench.
Yet those two are really all the Hoosiers need now. Green provides them with some help handling the ball alongside freshman guard Rob Phinisee, while also bringing an actual hunger to score that has been rare from many of his teammates throughout the season. Meanwhile, when teams throw big lineups at IU, Davis’ colossal body is as valuable as anybody on the roster on both ends of the floor.
There is a catch to all this. We’ve seen the ugly inconsistencies in the two juniors’ play that makes their recent solid play less of a pleasant surprise and more of just plain skepticism.
Yet with what seems to be apex mountain for this team’s confidence level, maybe, just maybe we’re seeing a corner being turned.
Maybe Green and Davis have finally fleshed out roles both they and the team as a whole can be content with and benefit from.
If that’s the case, this is the best version of the Hoosiers we’ve seen all season.
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