Comfortably slumped in a black, office-style chair inside the IU men’s basketball team’s locker room, junior guard Devonte Green put his arm around freshman guard Rob Phinisee.
With a jovial expression on his face, the kind of smile that comes with an 18-point scoring performance in a second round postseason victory, Green proudly proclaimed how close the connection is between the backcourt teammates.
“We’re like Batman and Robin right now,” Green said. “We’re killing it now.”
When asked to clarify which guard filled which hypothetical role, Green changed his mind.
“Alright, we’re Batman and Batman,” Green said.
Green’s 18 points paced IU in a 63-60 win over the University of Arkansas on Saturday afternoon, rewarding the more than 12,000 people inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall with a second round NIT win and ensuring one more competitive game of basketball in Bloomington this season.
A back-and-forth contest between the Hoosiers and Razorbacks wasn’t played particularly well for long stretches, as neither team made a field goal in the final 5:50 of the game. The star players for each team also failed to play a role. IU freshman guard Romeo Langford was sidelined with a back injury and Arkansas sophomore forward Daniel Gafford chose to skip the NIT entirely to prepare for the NBA Draft.
This presented the opportunity for one of IU’s most prolific and polarizing players to take center stage. Whether it was being able to make four of IU’s six three-pointers, working in tandem with Phinisee to break the full-court pressure applied by the Razorbacks or gathering a team-high 11 rebounds, all defensive boards, Green overcame a midweek stomach bug to power IU on both ends of the court.
"He's our most important sort of cog in the wheel right now,” IU Head Coach Archie Miller said. “He's just playing the game right now with freedom. I think right now he's just playing to win.”
When Langford doesn’t play, Green said the IU offense features more movement. This constant motion prevents defenses from sagging away from IU players, as was the case during IU’s offensive decline during conference games.
Key to that movement and keeping defenses honest is Green, a player who has the ability to make shots and passes from anywhere.
“Devonte definitely opens the floor up for us,” junior forward De’Ron Davis said.
This means in recent weeks, while Green has averaged 16 points over the last six games, opponents have seen a lot of more of his trademark pose, leaving his right arm with a white shooting sleeve extended toward the rim.
“Sometimes if it’s short I feel like I have to hold it a little longer,” Green said.
The scoring has given Green a boost of confidence, something needed as the Hoosiers have had to replace the 16.5-points per game averaged by Langford.
“It’s just like, this one’s going in, and the next one’s going in, and this one’s going in,” Green said. “Even if it goes out it’s like, it was this close to going in, so I know the next one is going in.”
But even with the good, there are moments where Green reverts to inconsistent form. The closing stages of Saturday’s game had Arkansas in possession of the ball with 6.1 seconds left and IU leading by three, courtesy of two free throws by Green.
Miller gave his team orders to foul and send the Razorbacks to the foul line, orders Green did not heed as junior guard Jalen Harris nearly made a three at the buzzer to force overtime.
“You know better for next time,” Green said of the final play.
But there will be a next time because of Green’s dynamic play, and what he’s able to offer IU on the court that no other player can.
It’s also a step closer to a trip back home for Green, a New York native, with the semifinals and finals of the NIT to take place at famed Madison Square Garden.
“Just cause we lost a tough one, didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, doesn’t mean we have to be done playing,” Green said. “It always feels good back in the Big Apple.”
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