Since it’s now official that IU basketball sophomore center De’Ron Davis is no longer returning to the court this season with torn right Achilles tendon, the Hoosiers will have to figure out how to cope internally.
Obviously people will look at forwards Juwan Morgan and Justin Smith to fill the void, and rightfully so. Those two, plus others off the bench such as Collin Hartman and Freddie McSwain, have big roles to fill. But as long as the frontcourt performs the way that they have been the last two games without Davis, Indiana will be fine.
What they need is consistent guard play.
Against Minnesota, 68 of IU’s 75 points came from Morgan, Smith and senior guard Robert Johnson. Johnson carried the load for the guards with a career high 28 points. Senior guard Josh Newkirk contributed zero points while sophomore guard Devonte Green had two points.
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“I’ve been saying it: 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,” IU head coach Archie Miller said after the Hoosiers 74-70 win against Penn State Tuesday night.
Johnson struggled early when Big Ten play rolled around putting up just six points in a loss at Michigan and then nine points, shooting two-of-nine from the field, against Iowa at home.
The following game at Louisville, Johnson failed to score a point for the only time this season. But since that loss he’s turned a corner.
In the last seven games he’s averaged over 16 points per game, four rebounds and has an even assist to turnover ratio.
Now it’s time for Newkirk and Green to turn the page and become more consistent on the floor for the Hoosiers. Tuesday’s game against Penn State was the step in the right direction for both.
With Johnson having a down game just three-of-13 shooting, 10 points and four turnovers against the Nitanny Lions, Newkirk and Green were able to stabilize the backcourt. Newkirk put up 16 points; four assists with no turnovers and Green contributed 13 points with zero turnovers, as well.
They also both combined to make all eight free throw attempts in the final 25 seconds of the game to ice the win for IU.
“Those guys have to understand: It’s not about taking chances; it’s about absolutely running the team and being a rock solid player. Because if we don’t turn it over, we’re a better team,” Miller said. “I think Devonte and Josh both got that message coming out of Minnesota. If you turn the ball over, you can’t play.”
Both guards had been mediocre at best with flashes of greatness this season before playing Penn State. For Newkirk, in the games against power five competition (Duke, Louisville, Notre Dame and the four conference games prior to Penn State) he averaged less than six points, slightly above three rebounds and two turnovers in each game.
In two of those games, Notre Dame and Minnesota, Newkirk was held scoreless, but Johnson said he saw a change in the way his fellow senior guard played against Penn State.
“I think tonight he just was poised. He wasn’t really rushing anything.” Johnson said. “He let the game come to him and was being a good point guard first. And I think when he did that I think things opened up for him.”
Green’s last five games before playing Penn State have been forgetful, shooting 17 percent from the field and 10 percent from behind the arc while also averaging two turnovers a game. But against the Nittany Lions Green gave Indiana much needed help off the bench providing 21 minutes, double digit scoring and not turning the ball over at all.
Miller said the frustrating thing is that Green has practiced extremely well but just hasn’t been able to figure out his role on the team.
“Devonte, he’s a tough guy. He’s stubborn,” Miller said. “I think the one thing about him he’s very intelligent and he knows the better he plays, the better we’re going to be. It’s not like he doesn’t want to play well or doesn’t want to get more minutes. He wants them. He’s just got to come our way.”
Moving forward, the guards need to become consistent more now than ever to help out with rebounding, defense and scoring. After Johnson was held scoreless against Louisville, he turned the page scoring 20 against Notre Dame in the win and has been much better ever since.
So it’s now time for Green and Newkirk to turn the page on their struggles. If there was ever a great time to do it, its now after both having quality games against Penn State and no Davis in the lineup effects the depth of the team.
“We’ve got guys that are ready to go. And if you’re not ready to go someone else is going to sub you in,” Hartman said. “So you just gotta come in ready. And that hard working and that scrappy mindset is what we have to have every day and carry over to these games.”