Indiana guards break through malaise with solid play
It had been one month exactly since the last time Indiana sophomore guard Devonte Green had played a turnover-free game.
In addition, Green had been missing 76 percent of his shots during that seven-game span, so a lot had not been going his way of late.
“You have got to give Devonte his freedom,” first-year Hoosier coach Archie Miller said Tuesday after Green had helped his team beat Penn State 74-70 in Bloomington. “He’s got to be willing to play through mistakes. As a coach, you have to give him some rope. But it’s the type of mistakes.”
Like the glaring one that occurred Saturday at Minnesota.
The Hoosiers had the final possession of the first half and as Green brought the ball up the floor, Miller quickly called his player over to tell him what to run on the final play. However, Green got mentally sidetracked and sauntered up the court and was called for a 10-second violation, when there wasn’t a Gopher defender within 25 feet of him.
Green has watched his minutes dwindle from 36 (against Notre Dame on Dec. 16) to 10 (last week at Wisconsin) as his play and confidence waned. But mental focus wasn’t an issue Tuesday.
Green teamed with fifth-year guard Josh Newkirk to run the Hoosiers’ offense efficiently, particularly in the closing minutes against a desperate and pressuring Nittany Lion team, as the duo combined 29 points and five assists, but more importantly, not a single turnover.
“Those guys have to understand,” Miller said of the two guards, “it’s not about taking chances, it’s about absolutely running the team and being a rock solid player.”
“If we don’t turn it over, we’re a better team.”
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Neither player has been exemplary in that regard this season.
Newkirk has dished off for a team-best 47 assists, but he has also thrown the ball away 28 times. For Green the numbers are 37 and 32.
Their play labored to the point that Miller allowed true freshman Al Durham to run the offense in the final eight minutes of that narrow win at Minnesota, while Newkirk and Green sat on the bench.
“Devonte and Josh both got that message coming out of Minnesota,” Miller said. “If you turn the ball over, you can’t play.”
“Thankfully, Al saved us in the Minnesota game and then tonight, both those guys emerge.”
Miller had been waiting for a performance out of his guards like Tuesday’s, particularly in the case of Green, who Miller said works as diligently as any player he has.
“If (Green) practices every day like he does,” Miller explained, “there should be great translation in the game. That has been one frustrating thing, he has practiced really well. He is by far and away one of our more talented guys on a daily basis.”
Newkirk will graduate following this season, so either Durham or Green or possibly Indiana commit Robert Phinisee will have to run the Indiana offense a year from now, but Miller would more than likely rather see an experienced player do so than have to rely on a first-year college player.
“Devonte,” Miller continued, “he’s a tough guy. He’s stubborn. The one thing about him is he’s very intelligent and he knows the better he plays, the better we’re going to be.”
In Tuesday’s game, Green played well offensively, as mentioned, but he was also very effective defensively.
The Hoosiers (10-7, 3-2 Big Ten) got off to a tremendous start at that end of the floor, as they either deflected a Penn State (12-6, 2-3) pass or made a steal off of a deflection on four of the Nittany Lions’ initial five plays.
When Green subbed in early in the game, that defensive intensity didn’t slow.
“I’ve been saying it,” Miller said, “if we can get some consistency with our guards, just consistency in assist-to-turnover ratio and some point production, a little bit, we’ll be a little bit, a little bit more to handle moving forward.”
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