Davis finding his stride

He still deals with the same aches and pains. It’s a long season, you know, and the past year has been unkind to De’Ron Davis’ 6-foot-10, 255-pound body.

But Davis is starting to feel better — and play better, too.

Since taking a two-week layoff to rest and tend to nagging ankle injuries last month, Indiana’s junior forward has found himself rejuvenated on the court. Although Indiana’s season continues to trend in a frustrating direction for the Hoosiers, Davis has emerged as one of IU’s few late-season bright spots.

Ahead of Saturday afternoon’s game at Minnesota, Davis is trying to make sure both his production and energy rub off on the Hoosiers around him.

“He’s been a positive,” IU coach Archie Miller said, “and we’ll need him to play an even more positive role as we head into the back seven games.”

It started with Indiana’s win at Michigan State on Feb. 2, the Hoosiers’ lone victory in their last 10 games. Davis, who missed the second half of last season with an Achilles injury, sat the previous three contests to rest his bad ankle, something Miller admits should’ve happened weeks earlier. He was a revelation against the Spartans, scoring 12 points, grabbing six boards and dishing four assists.

In the three games since Davis returned earlier this month, the Hoosiers are outscoring opponents by 21 points while the junior is on the floor.

“He’s the best he’s been all season, in terms of mobility and also being able to play longer stretches,” Miller said. “He took a good two-and-a-half weeks off and didn’t do anything. He got his confidence back, in terms of having his base. The more he plays, the more he’ll get comfortable. He’s been a bright spot for us.”

He’s also trying to help behind the scenes, perhaps as important as anything as Indiana’s season has fallen apart.

IU begins its practices most days with a shooting drill, where players are split between teams and have to out-shoot the other side.

The losers have to run.

Davis is not a shooter, but he is a high-energy player who wants to win these mini games. So while his practice team progresses through the drill, Davis is the one bringing energy and encouraging teammates.

“I try to bring a positive note to everything,” Davis said. “Not every day does everybody want to practice or be out there, but if I come in with energy (it can impact the others). … Honestly, I’m trying to focus on being a loud voice for us in practice, from a competing standpoint.”

Whether during practice or in the games, that’s been evident.

His passing touch has been one of the most welcome breakthroughs since his return to the court earlier this month. Across IU’s three games this month, Davis has totaled 13 assists against only one turnover, with many of those helpers feeding open shooters on the perimeter.

“Honestly my teammates are the ones who are making everything happen for me,” Davis said. “I’ve been a passing big. Most of the time, it’s 50-50 chances so, the guards, (Devonte) Green, Romeo (Langford), everybody’s been ready to shoot ,locked and loaded so it’s really a credit to them.”

Davis has also lessened some of the burden placed on junior forward Juwan Morgan, who’s been forced to play out of position at the five for much of the season while Davis has been limited.

At times, Miller has deployed a lineup that includes both Davis and Morgan, a strategic wrinkle that has opened up Morgan’s game on both ends of the court.

“We had that combination on the floor a few times in our last few games, and you know, that lineup has been positive,” Miller said. “You have two pretty good low post (players), and with Juwan being able to move on the perimeter, you have some inside-outside game with those two guys. It’s something that, as the back stretch continues, promotes more opportunities to get those guys together on the floor. (It’s) a good thing.”

Conditioning remains the only thing keeping Davis from exploring a deeper role.

Last year’s Achilles injury torpedoed much of the physical gains Davis made during the summer of 2017, and as this season has progressed, he’s fought to battle back into playing shape.

Gradually, he seems to be getting there.

Across the past three games, Davis is averaging 21 minutes per game — a workload Miller hopes he’ll be able to increase down the stretch.

“We’ve been able to navigate him where he’s played in the 20s a few times, which is probably about what he can handle conditioning-wise,” Miller said. “But he’s definitely been a big boost for us and gives us another guy offensively that can play a little bit with his back to the basket and reading defenses. From Michigan State on, he’s been a positive in that regard so hopefully he can continue to go that route and we’ll continue to use him as much as possible.”