Most words used to describe the play of IU sophomore forward Justin Smith and junior guard Devonte Green have not had positive connotations.
But what tugged at the frustrations of IU men’s basketball fans was the potential everyone knew the two had. And it showed it in IU’s 63-62 victory over No. 6 Michigan State on Saturday.
While Michigan State junior guard Cassius Winston — a contender for Big Ten player of the year — filled up the stat sheet for his team, it was Smith and Green carrying the load for IU.
The two combined for 37 points on a day where senior forward Juwan Morgan and freshman guard Romeo Langford each scored less than 10 points for the first time this season.
“Attitude is everything,” IU Coach Archie Miller said. “If your attitude is great and you’re focused in on just doing whatever you can to help, good things tend to happen.”
The afternoon began with Smith providing the only source of offense for the Hoosiers. It started with what’s common for him: A transition layup followed by a putback layup three minutes later.
Then, it became obvious that Smith was headed toward a career game. With IU struggling to muster up anything on the offensive end, Smith knocked in a pair of threes to keep his team within striking distance.
It wasn’t until less than six minutes remained in the first half that someone other than Smith made a field goal for IU.
“I was due to hit some shots,” Smith said. “Hadn't hit a couple in a while, and then once I got a couple going, my teammates kept giving me confidence, told me keep shooting it. That's what I did, and I was able to make a couple.”
Smith finished the first half with 16 points, and he added another eight in the second half en route to a career-high 24 points.
As Smith slowed down some in the final 20 minutes, that’s where Green stepped up. Behind 3-for-4 shooting from beyond the arc in the second half, Green scored 11 of his 13 points to help the Hoosiers defeat the Spartans for the second time this season.
“It always feels good when you’re making shots,” Green said. “I just stepped up and made the shots.”
Green has shown signs of efficient offense in games that he has played well, but his three steals on the defensive end against Michigan State helped IU gain momentum in the latter stages of the game.
“When he’s engaged, he’s as talented a guy as you can have,” Miller said. “When’s he not engaged, obviously, he’s like everybody else. It sticks out.”
When Michigan State needed a bucket as the game was winding down, Head Coach Tom Izzo turned to his star in Winston, who had 20 points and 11 assists in the matchup.
It wasn’t Langford or Morgan put to the task of making a final stop.
Instead, freshman guard Robert Phinisee was given the assignment from Miller, and he contested the shot to perfection. The ball hit off the rim and confirmed that on a day when IU’s stars struggled, the role players were able to pick up the slack.
“The last possession was very fitting for Rob,” Miller said. “That’s the guy we all saw very early on in his career, was gonna be a special type of a player. The way that he guarded in that last situation, it can’t get any better.”
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