Morgan playing to potential as postseason looms

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.”

9 comments

  1. Did you know if you switch positions of the ‘R’ and ‘C’ in your screen name you get The CORK?

  2. What I mean is that we are going to need everyone of our improved and getting-better/healthier players to really step it up against Iowa. I’m with the program that we’ve under-achieved this year, but honestly continue to love watching the games. I also truly enjoy everyone’s comments on this site; it enhances my enjoyment

  3. Don’t mis-understand me! Early this season I saw a dysfunctional “team” and wrote we were a lock for post-season play (and that we would not lose at home). I was wrong on the losing at home but I never thought this year we’d do well enough to go NCAA….I was disparaged by the venerable and loquacious H4….calling me “Pebbles” for my low expectations with this “talent”. I don’t think this team IS that talented. There are a lot of good basketball players and as the season progresses it’s a matter of how the TEAM develops. Our Coach keeps talking about getting “better” but I don’t see a TEAM yet….but hope for these young men that they somehow magically DO develop as a Team!

    I don’t know about anyone else’s personal life (except H4’s shower power as a youngster) but my personal life is filled with enough dysfuncation that it’s sort of refreshing to see dysfuncation reign “elsewhere”…and I keep hoping that we’ll stop complaining about the call when it’s away from the friendly refereeing at Simon-Skojdt and start coalescing.

    It’s NOT the player’s fault! It’s COACHING and with their backs against the wall perhaps it will be a magical season like 1981 where it seemed like Bobby Knight allowed them to play freely and Landon to dominate.

    We don’t have any Zeke, of course….but we DO have some shooters and we do have Thomas Bryant who, if allowed, could dominate.

    Will they do it? I don’t think so, and don’t think anyone else does.

    But that makes for the possibilty of some truly magical moments for the candystripes, as H4 so charmingly labels them.

    You have to admit those first few minutes against Ohio State were terrific! Can they put it together for an entire game and then somehow come together and get on a roll?

    I’m totally pumped, boulderdash-wise, but there’s not a lot esle I have going on in my life so, as Bobby said, “IU basketball is for the old and sick”. Well, that’s me! Yeah, I’m ‘sick’ of this season but it could turn around…our Coach keeps saying we’re getting better and there’s no reason not to believe him, is there?

    1. Sure, that’s fair and certainly heartfelt.

      I think you are hearing opinions from older contributors who have functioned in a world where, if we didn’t prove our value, we would see sudden change. I imagine it’s exactly the same in the job market now.

      We don’t expect any more out of the coaching staff than we most likely have encountered in our own lives. Fish or cut bait.

  4. I think you are hearing opinions from older contributors

    Isn’t that a major problem sports will soon be facing….? Unless ESPN works in heaven, the future is bleak. All of us savvy older contributors..? None so smart to convince six feet of dirt from calling for an inevitable quieter time than the sound of keystrokes to gloat. I believe this blog would be so much healthier if we had some humble and wise younger contributors. This place is a very narrow representation of the world. Does sports in general only appeal to such narrow subsets of the population…or is it just a product of the blogging beast?
    I am not one to believe age brings more wisdom…Opinions harden and maturity thins of its liberal expression and wonderment like narrowing rings on an old oak tree. We tend to scream louder in the wind as the days grow fewer…until the final thud of our branches and trunk hitting the forest floor.

  5. Chet,

    I totally and completely agree with you, and t and AZwinAZ and H4 and ALL the others (except Podunk) on this site.

    I.U. is paying Tom Crean good money and not getting the results.

    The results in the BIG tournament have been horrific to date, and that is now the effective League Championship (now that the schedule can be gamed as H4 has to eloquently explained).

    Tonight! Tonight! Who would have thought that at the end of this season I’d be crowing: Beat Iowa as though that would be something special. (but it would be!!!)

    I’m the most boring poster on this site but accept that.

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