Morgan makes winning possible

INDIANAPOLIS — Archie Miller sees it every day.

The drive and the passion, the power and the savvy. There’s a lot that Miller enjoys about coaching Juwan Morgan.

But there’s one thing the second-year Indiana coach appreciates more than any other.

“Every day is the same,” Miller said.

That’s consistency Indiana counts on, much as it showed in Saturday’s 71-68 win over Butler in the Crossroads Classic. Yes, Rob Phinisee made the game-winning 3-pointer as time expired, but Morgan made the moment possible with his play throughout the contest.

Without Morgan’s career-high 35 points, such a victory wouldn’t have been within reach.

It’s a tribute to the will of IU’s senior forward, who has made it his stated mission to return Indiana to the NCAA Tournament and guide the Hoosiers deep into March after their two-year postseason drought. One mid-December game against Butler won’t make or break IU’s odds to do so, but it was an important stage, no less.

With his teammates struggling, Morgan took over Saturday’s game and authored another memorable chapter to a college career IU won’t soon forget.

“Juwan Morgan had as good of a game as I’ve been involved in in a long time,” Miller said.

It, too, was a game that put Morgan in select company in the Indiana record book. He became the 52nd player in IU history to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career, passing Jared Jeffries for 51st on the school’s all-time list.

Morgan’s play was exceptional, his leadership unwavering. With the Hoosiers playing sloppily against a tough and gritty Butler squad, Morgan commanded the ball and rose to the moment.

He made each of his eight 2-point attempts and four of his six 3-point tries, finishing one shy of matching his career high from beyond the arc. At the line, Morgan was just as good, going 7-for-7.

That’s impressive efficiency, and exactly what Indiana has come to expect.

For an IU team with emerging flaws, Morgan has appeared unwilling to let those shortcoming break the Hoosiers. Saturday was merely the latest example.

“You’ve got to give him all the credit in the world,” Miller said.

For Morgan, who established himself last season as one of the best players in the Big Ten, his role had been building for years. You have to go back to his freshman year, when he received some helpful advice.

Early in that 2015-16 campaign, Morgan battled injuries, while trying to adjust to a slow-to-develop role. Former Hoosier guard Robert Johnson, then a sophomore, supplied him with a helpful reminder.

“I used to tell him, ‘Control what you can control,'” Johnson told The Herald-Times before the season. “That’s how hard you work, that’s your attitude, that’s what you do when you have the opportunity to play. I think focusing on those things and trying to build from there, you always put yourself in a good position.”

Control what you can control. It’s a mantra Morgan has to put to use.

During the past season and a half, when games have unfolded unevenly for the Hoosiers, Morgan has asserted himself as IU’s best, most consistent option. He can’t necessarily control the play of others, but he can absolutely dictate the course of his own.

“Very few guys can eliminate moodiness, the ability not to feel tired,” Miller said. “For about two years straight, through about 150 practices, that’s what I get to see every day. Not that his game days are perfect. But the guy plays the right way.”

And inside of a young locker room, Morgan uses his voice, too.

“If you can communicate something to him, he can get it communicated to the other guys,” Miller said. “He’s a smart, smart basketball player. But definitely in huddles, you hear a guy talking, it’s encouraging. I think he gives everyone confidence on the team when he’s engaged.”

That confidence was contagious on Saturday.

Morgan’s comfort as the go-to option eventually carried over to others as the game continued. The Hoosiers tidied up defensively, got others the ball and won the game on a memorable last-second shot by Phinisee at the horn.

It was a moment that instantly earned its place on Indiana’s season-long highlight reel.

It was also a moment that wouldn’t have been in the making without Morgan setting the table.

“He just did his thing,” Phinisee said. “It worked out.”

One comment

  1. He makes the game look simple. Nothing flashy. You just look up, and he plays a flawless game with 26pts and 10 rebounds.

    …and he wins.

    He is a great basketball player.

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