Devonte Green runs down the floor after a huge 3-pointer to put Indiana up 60-50 with 2:52 to play. He has his hand up with the three fingers pointing to the sky, bouncing off his face.
Everyone’s watching Green celebrate an all-but-certain Indiana victory at that point. No one notices who else is on the floor.
After playing just 12 minutes in the last two games combined, redshirt freshman Jerome Hunter was out on the court for the crucial final minutes of a win over the No. 11 team in the country.
Hunter logged 19 minutes in the win, including the final 6:47. He entered with Indiana up seven. He didn’t leave the floor until the clock hit zero and Indiana won by 12.
Coming out of high school, Hunter was the No. 46 recruit by 247Sports. He was a first-state honoree as a senior and a finalist for Ohio Mr. Basketball. He scored 1,314 points and averaged over 20 points per game as a senior.
But Archie Miller wanted him on the floor for his defense, not his offense.
“He’s gotta understand, stay out of the way on offense and make sure you’re guarding your butt off,” Miller said Saturday. “The longer you play, then your offense will start to get easier for you.”
“Stay out of the way on offense,” isn’t something someone as prolific offensively as Hunter wants to hear. Hunter is thought of as a guy who can help Indiana’s woeful 3-point shooting. However, he underwent surgery on his leg last season, and according to Miller, never participated in a single drill in practice a year ago. Miller tells him he’s a true freshman, whether he agrees or not, because he didn’t have a single rep last year.
After the Northwestern game, Miller told the press he didn’t like his rotation and was planning to make changes. After the Ohio State game, he backed that, saying that if someone plays hard, they’re staying in. And man, did Jerome Hunter play hard.
“Jerome Hunter played the best game of his college career and he gave the best minutes all season long at the wing position,” Miller said.
If you judge Hunter off what you see in the games, you’re not even close to the full picture. Both Miller and the players said postgame how hard he works and how much he loves the game of basketball. Yeah, he’s a 15 percent 3-point shooter in game, but we don’t see what he does at practice.
Green went off for 19 points. Phinisee added 13. Those are great, and it’s really good to see the backcourt start to play well and play off each other. But to me, Indiana goes as its role players go, a.k.a Jerome Hunter.
Just when Indiana needed it most, the backcourt delivered. Green and Phinisee led Indiana to a 66-54 win over No. 11 Ohio State. @AustinRender and @YearyJackson break it down. #iubb pic.twitter.com/QNeVyotaSR
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) January 11, 2020
His 19 minutes Saturday were tied for his most of the season. The other 19-minute appearance came in garbage time against North Alabama. He got to the free-throw line six times and made five. He was a great defender on the wing against Ohio State’s hottest player, Andre Wesson.
“Guys that are playing well and playing hard, they’re going to stay in,” Miller said. “If you want to get in the game, when you come in, get it done.”
He went on to say how everyone’s “get it done” is different. Hunter has always thought his best way to impact the team was offensively, and most fans think that too. Saturday was a perfect example of what hard work and buying in can do for a player and a team.
Indiana goes as players like Hunter go. If he’s providing 5-10 minutes of subpar basketball, missing shots and playing poor defense, this team will struggle. But when he’s playing hard and defending well, Miller has more lineup options and good things tend to happen.
There’s no doubt this was Hunter’s best game of the season. It’s not about the points, it’s about the minutes. The next question is, will this give him confidence to keep this hard work up, or will he regress back to where he was the past few weeks? A healthy and active Jerome Hunter may be just what Indiana needs.