There’s a certain enigma about senior guard Devonte Green.
His leadership has been questioned by his head coach. He tries to force passes and look for the big play over the smart one. He takes wild shots that waste offensive possessions and greatly limit a team that is already among the worst shooting teams in the Big Ten.
But when everything is going right, Green has game-changing talent that can lift IU in the biggest moments. He lights up the highlight reel and brings the crowd to its feet, energizing IU itself.
With a four-game losing streak and a season of promise beginning to tailspin, IU needed Green to be at his best — and he was. IU beat No. 21 Iowa 89-77.
Green checked into the game for the first time with 15:53 left in the first half. IU was down by four and needed some sort of spark in front of a Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall crowd that lacked the size and energy of Saturday’s game against Purdue.
Green’s first 3-pointer fell through the net. So did his second, and his third and fourth. Green’s four straight makes from beyond the arc between the 14:51 and 12:18 mark of the first half flipped what had been a deficit into a 25-16 lead.
When the Hoosiers get that version of Green, they can effortlessly blow past the Big Ten’s best and never look back.
“We needed it, we really needed it,” IU head coach Archie Miller said. “Our team needs some sort of confidence boost in big games. When he’s played well, we’ve played well.”
Green finished with 27 points in the win. He made seven shots from the field, and all of them were 3-pointers. The seven threes were the most Green has hit in a single game this season.
Freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis smiled at his teammate when he was asked about Green's night. He said all he thinks about is getting Green the ball.
“It's just a good feeling when you see one and two and three and four go in,” Green said. “I'm going to shoot it again. I'm going to shoot it until I miss it. And then I'm going to shoot it again.”
Green’s place in the broad picture of IU’s season has its complexities, and that largely lies with the inconsistency of his play. When he has a night like this, Green plays with a smile and a confident swagger.
He scored 30 points in a Dec. 3 win over Florida State University and 16 points in a Jan. 26 loss to Maryland, which was still one of IU’s best performances of the season. Yet Green had zero in a Jan. 15 road loss to Rutgers, four in a Jan. 29 loss to Rutgers and three against Purdue on Saturday.
It’s his enigma.
The senior’s focus is not always there, Miller said. Neither is his motivation. Miller said that Green doesn’t always compete his hardest in practice, and he can be lethargic.
“He doesn't have that fire where he just comes flying out the next day like here I come,” Miller said. “I wish he had that. When he does, puts some things to the side and says, all right, it's about winning and the team; I've got to come to practice and work.”
Miller said he can tell when Green is truly looking to play well, and that that isn’t always there. After the loss to Purdue on Saturday, Miller saw whatever it was that he looks for. Green was focused, energized and played smart. That led to another career night in a big game.
Green has only started six times for IU after Miller called him IU’s most talented offensive player in the preseason. The Hoosiers have been better suited with Green off the bench so that the team's inhibiting negative side doesn’t put IU in an early hole.
With the calendar flipping to February and every game meaning just that much more as it gets closer to March, Miller has needed Green to finally find the gear and put up a big game where he can carry the team — hitting the afterburners, as Miller called it.
Yet when it’s all there — the focus, the smarts, the confidence — Green is the piece IU needs to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
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