Davis bounces back, let’s play do the talking

De’Ron Davis was ready to board the bus.

But first, Indiana’s loquacious junior forward stopped outside the Breslin Center visitors locker room and mingled with reporters after the Hoosiers’ 79-75 upset of No. 6 Michigan State.

For once — or, at least, for the first time in a while — this season, there was a new topic to discuss. Not his ankle. Not his recovery. Not his missed time.

It was time to talk about his game.

“I feel like every time I talk to you guys, I talk about getting back in shape and (how) I’m always hurt,” Davis said. “I’m just trying to get back to work and back in my grind.”

Davis did exactly that in East Lansing.

In a season-high 25 minutes on Saturday, Davis gave Indiana crucial production off the bench, while providing a much-needed paint presence against the Spartans’ physical frontcourt.

For a player who has dealt with a series of medical setbacks in recent seasons, this weekend was a reminder of Davis’ value to the Hoosiers.

And Indiana maximized that value in a potential season-saving victory.

“He’s an experienced guy, and he’s a good player,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “When you play against Michigan State, you have to have the ability to throw the ball inside. He’s definitely a guy that we can do that to. The more he played, the more rhythm he got into, which is a good thing.”

Davis finished with a season-high 12 points, adding six rebounds and four assists while helping the Hoosiers seal their first win in 30 days with three free throws in the final 11.8 seconds.

It wasn’t expected production, either.

Speaking candidly after the game, Miller admitted “it was a shock” to see Davis log 25 minutes in his first game back from the ankle injury he suffered on Jan. 3. After having a clearly-hobbled Davis play through his ankle issue during the first half of last month, Miller shut down his 6-foot-10 forward to rest and recuperate after the team’s loss at Purdue on Jan. 19.

Davis didn’t play against Northwestern, Michigan or Rutgers, and entered the Michigan State trip having totaled only 15 minutes in four January games.

“It wasn’t like I was sitting out the whole time,” Davis said. “I was sitting out of practice, but I was doing off-the-court stuff to keep me at a pace where I could do what I did (Saturday), you know what I mean? Nothing’s like playing and practicing and doing that conditioning. It doesn’t matter how much I run on the treadmill or underwater treadmill, it’s not gonna be game speed, but it helped me help the team (Saturday).”

Help, he did.

With Juwan Morgan knocked out of the game late in the first half with a left shoulder injury, IU was short on trustworthy options. Banging around in the post isn’t part of Evan Fitzner’s game. Fellow forwards Clifton Moore and Jake Forrester play hard, but Miller doesn’t seem to trust them with bulk minutes.

Luckily for Indiana, the 6-foot-10 Davis was eager to get in the game and impose himself against Michigan State’s 6-foot-9, 245-pound All-Big Ten caliber big man, Nick Ward.

Davis got the better of the matchup, outscoring Ward — who went merely 1-for-9 from the line — by a point and finishing with IU’s second-highest plus/minus (plus-eight) on the night.

“I like to be able to show what I can do,” Davis said. “When teams play me one-on-one, they have to deal with me. Their loss.”

That’s the version of Davis Indiana needs — productive, purposeful and confident. After missing the final 16 games of last season due to an Achilles injury, Davis has been hampered by nagging injury issues for much of this season.

Due to the forced downtime brought on by last year’s Achilles issue, Davis had to play himself into shape early in the season. Varying degrees of soreness have limited him across the campaign.

To Davis’ credit, he’s pushed through it all, while striving to give Indiana the help it has needed off the bench.

Just as he did at Michigan State.

“(He was a) big lift,” freshman guard Romeo Langford said. “He’s a big-time presence inside, (especially) when J-Mo is out. Having him down there, it makes the defense help out, and if they don’t, it’s an automatic bucket.”

With his conditioning still a work-in-progress, Davis wasn’t as agile as Miller would’ve liked on the defensive end, but the effort was there.

And in a memorable win, that effort went a long way toward giving the Hoosiers the victory they craved.

“Without question,” Miller said, “we don’t win the game without his play.”