This time last year, it was his shoulder.
Much to the relief of everyone inside IU’s program, corrective surgery during the off-season fixed the recurring shoulder issues that had nagged Juwan Morgan since high school. Even so, Morgan’s second season of college basketball hasn’t been much to the versatile sophomore forward.
In December, an unspecified injury kept Morgan sidelined in practice during the days leading into IU’s Dec. 17 loss to Butler in the Crossroads Classic. A couple weeks later in a home loss to Nebraska, Morgan hurt his shoulder when Cornhuskers forward Jordy Tshimanga yanked him to the court on a borderline dirty play at Assembly Hall.
During a win over Rutgers in mid-January, Morgan tripped over an official while moving along the floor and suffered a foot injury that nagged him through the bulk of Big Ten season. Making matters worse, Morgan got banged up after running into a photographer seated along the baseline last week at Purdue, causing him to sit out a couple days’ worth of practices leading into Saturday’s regular season-ending win at Ohio State.
Through all the falls, the spills and the general poor luck that has tested the limits of Morgan’s body, the Missouri native has made a habit of playing through pain during his two years in an Indiana uniform.
Even after the most recent injury episode in West Lafayette, Morgan is beginning to regain his health — and his production — as IU’s turn in the Big Ten Tournament looms this week in Washington D.C.
“Juwan looked closer to his old self than he has in a long time,” IU coach Tom Crean said of Morgan’s performance last weekend at Ohio State. “It’s real easy to get centered in on the injuries that we’ve had that have knocked people like Collin (Hartman) out and people like OG (Anunoby) out. When guys come back from those injuries, it takes time.”
Through all the injuries and hurdles Morgan has encountered during his brief college career, he has endeared himself to his teammates and those around the program through his repeated displays of toughness and ongoing willingness to compete.
In Anunoby’s absence, Morgan stands as IU’s most versatile two-way player. Along with guard Robert Johnson, Morgan was at the forefront of IU’s pivotal 10-0 second-half run against Ohio State after the Buckeyes shaved away what had been an 18-point deficit against the Hoosiers.
Morgan finished with 11 points, going 4-for-4 from the field and 3-for-6 at the line. He added four rebounds, two blocks, a pair of assists and a steal.
All told, Indiana outscored Ohio State by 15 points during the 21 minutes Morgan was on the floor.
Morgan did it all while playing through foul trouble, finishing the game with four personals. Fouls have been a problem for Indiana throughout conference season, but IU juggled Saturday’s situation well and kept players like Morgan and Thomas Bryant, who also carried four fouls, available for critical moments.
“I thought the (assistant) coaches did a great job of managing our foul trouble on the bench as far as managing who was in when,” Crean said. “A couple times we rolled the dice and won with not subbing and we held the fort when we did, because we’ve got to keep finding ways to have our best players in at the end of the game. That’s really what we’ve not had.”
As he showed against the Buckeyes, Morgan has been one of the Big Ten’s most efficient players this season. He’s shooting 64.6 percent on shots inside the arc — 11 percentage points higher than a year ago. When healthy, he’s shown the ability to take steps toward building off a freshman spent as an energy player off the bench.
A starter in 17 of the 29 games he’s played as a sophomore, Morgan is averaging 7.2 points (nearly five more than last year), he’s grabbing an average of three more rebounds per game and he has often been active on the offensive glass.
When needed, he’s shown the capacity to fill plenty of roles in IU’s playing rotation. And as Saturday’s win at Ohio State illustrated, Morgan’s improvement from both the health and production standpoints will be key to determining just how long IU remains in this week’s conference tournament field.
“Juwan did a fantastic job,” Crean said about Morgan after Saturday’s game. “We are getting healthier. I don’t think there’s any question about that.”