De’Ron Davis snatched an offensive rebound out of the hands of an SIU-Edwardsville defender and laid the ball in off the glass to extend the Indiana lead to 17 on Friday night, and that’s when things got physical.
Davis ran back on defense and by the time he reached halfcourt, teammate Thomas Bryant was leaping like he was in a mosh pit, chest bumping and punching the freshman in excitement.
“Yeah, TB is a very energetic dude,” Davis said with a laugh. “We all need that. It goes back to the point of bringing our energy. We were just trying to hype everyone up.”
Davis, the 6-foot-10 newcomer from Aurora, Colo., certainly brought plenty of energy in a worthy encore to his strong performance against No. 3 North Carolina, a trend he’ll seek to continue when the No. 13 Hoosiers (6-1) host Southeast Missouri State at 4 o’clock Sunday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
It’s the fourth game in eight days for Indiana, the finale of a cramped part of the schedule that slows down to just two games in the next 13 days. For Davis, who didn’t arrive on campus until August and had to overcome a preseason foot injury, this is a master test of conditioning.
“I’m sure it’s getting better,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “We’ve had him on a hockey shift schedule, longer tonight, and it just worked out that way. … We’ve got to keep pushing it.”
Davis pushed it to a career-high 17 minutes to go with career highs of 14 points and three assists.
“He did an excellent job with what the game was giving him,” Crean said. “I’m going to make a couple of adjustments for him to make it a little more conducive to where his skill level is now, especially on the offensive side.
“But he played well. And I think it will continue to grow as he gets healthy and as he gets into even better shape and he understands how hard he has to play for how long. And that’s big right now for a young guy, especially for a young guy that wasn’t here all summer and is coming off the injuries.”
Confidence is also big for Davis, who got a shot in the arm against the Tar Heels, when he posted five points and three rebounds in 13 minutes against one of college basketball’s best frontcourts.
“Really big. That shows that I can play on this level,” Davis said. “And I go against great players every day in practice. J-Mo (Juwan Morgan) and Thomas Bryant, they all push me in practice, so getting on the court makes the game easier.”
Those practice pushes have been taking place ever since Davis arrived in Bloomington. Morgan has been playing against the big man in AAU tournaments since the pair were in middle school, Morgan eighth grade and Davis seventh grade, and says the confidence has been growing ever since, even if it’s sometimes the result of tough love.
“When he first got (to Indiana), he was talking about how down he was about not being able to score sometimes, because we didn’t take it easy on him,” Morgan said. “Like every time he got the ball, I was attacking him every single time. And during the heat of the moment, I was telling him he can’t guard me and stuff, but after practice I was telling him, ‘We’ve got to work on this, because we need you. We’re going to need you to play right away.’
“He took that to heart, and he started going against himself, looking at himself in the mirror, saying, ‘This is what I’ve gotta do.’ And I think that’s really showed up these last few games.”
Davis showed plenty of ways to score on Friday — at the free-throw line, on the offensive glass, a fadeaway jumper in the lane, a dunk in transition and a jump hook that left a defender cursing in frustration — proving practice pays off.
“Just like J-Mo said, when I first got here, I couldn’t really score, so that’s what we do, we got out and practice,” Davis said. “Granted, today I should have used my left hand a little bit more — you spin back left, your left hand is there. So I’m just trying to expand my game and continue to get myself in a little bit better shape.”
The idea of Davis only getting better is bad news for Indiana opponents, and the opportunity will be there again with OG Anunoby still sidelined by an injured left ankle.
Anunoby’s injury is not considered “long-term” by Crean, who wouldn’t rule him out for today’s game, but isn’t planning on the sophomore being available.
In the meantime, Davis hopes to keep taking steps forward.
“As the season is going, I’m going to continue to get better and so is my team,” he said.