Morgan powers IU to 89-73 win on senior day

First to his left, then to his right.

Juwan Morgan made sure both sides of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall felt the love.

On his final walk to the bench in his final regular-season game at the venerable basketball arena, Morgan turned and waved to the announced crowd of 15,462, a thankful gesture that earned a standing ovation from the Indiana partisans in Bloomington.

After the game, an 89-73 romp over Rutgers, Morgan took the microphone for off-the-cuff Senior Day remarks and announced his gratitude for his teammates, his coaches — both old and new — and his family members, several of whom wore custom-made No. 13 IU jerseys and waved handheld posters with his face on them throughout the contest.

But during a postgame speech that ran just shy of four minutes, there was one thing Morgan refused to say: goodbye. Right now, he’s playing like a man who doesn’t want his Indiana career to end.

With IU’s NCAA Tournament hopes on the line this week, Morgan raised his game to match the moment. He authored back-to-back 20-point efforts, including Sunday’s 25-point performance against the Scarlet Knights, leading IU coach Archie Miller to openly campaign after the game for Big Ten Player of the Week honors on Morgan’s behalf.

Morgan, though, seems to be thinking bigger.

He recognizes there’s an opportunity to extend his career past the conference tournament, even beyond a National Invitation Tournament bid, too. Morgan’s sights have been on the NCAA Tournament all along, and in the twilight of his final season, he appears unwilling to settle for anything less.

“Everything we want is in front of us,” Morgan said.

Next up, Indiana will take the No. 9 seed in next week’s conference tournament and play No. 8 Ohio State on Thursday at 12:30 p.m.

But first, there was Sunday’s Senior Day — and what a fitting occasion it was for Indiana’s senior leader.

It marked the sixth time this season that Morgan eclipsed 20 points in a ballgame, doing so while connecting on each of his first 10 shot attempts of the afternoon. He punctuated his line with seven rebounds, playing through foul trouble all the while.

The rematch between Indiana (17-14, 8-12) and Rutgers (14-16, 7-13) was an over-officiated slog of a game that saw the teams combine for 48 fouls. Morgan contributed four to that total, sitting for extended stretches and logging only 22 total minutes, which tied for his season low.

But beyond the fouls, Morgan made the most of the minutes he was given. Rutgers had no answer for defending him in the post, and during the stretches when Morgan was absent, it was noticeable just how much the Hoosiers missed his presence.

“Juwan, in the time that he’s on the floor, was just pretty much unstoppable in this game,” Miller said. “He gave us a big boost to push that lead out to 23.”

Indeed, Morgan didn’t miss a shot of any kind until midway through the second half. His 3-pointer at the 12:34 mark of the final period extended IU’s advantage to 66-46 and whipped the Hall into a frenzy.

He finished 11-for-13 from the field, 1-for-2 beyond the arc and 2-for-2 at the line. Indiana, just as it has been for each of Morgan’s final two seasons, was content to play through its senior co-captain, and Morgan responded in kind.

Across his past two games, Morgan is averaging 22.5 points, while shooting a combined 74 percent from the floor. Those are excellent numbers, no doubt, and with Morgan they’re signs of just how eager he is to carry the Hoosiers further into March.

“Seniors do one of two things,” Miller said. “They either run away because it’s too hard and it’s on them, or they just fight, and Juwan is a fighter. Fighters fight. He’s given us unbelievable toughness on the boards these last four or five games where we need to rebound, and he’s given us a presence this week in particular around the rim where he scored the ball.

“To me, I don’t know necessarily what anyone else in the league (has done), but I know he had one heck of a week for our basketball team in terms of being player of the week or whatever. If he’s not, somebody else must have had an unbelievable line. Because if you look at his line the last two games, pretty impressive. It was great to see him finish the way he did, as well, to go out like that.”

There was no more fitting moment for Morgan than his final field goal of the day. It came off a loose ball tipped to him by classmate Zach McRoberts, who was credited with an assist on Morgan’s ensuing two-handed slam.

The play was reminiscent of others they’ve shared in recent years, most memorably the game-winning sequence in last year’s Crossroads Classic victory over Notre Dame. Most important for Morgan, it was a chance to shine the Senior Day spotlight on someone other than himself.

“He just brings a different level of toughness and his grit to the team, and he makes plays like that all the time, even in practice,” Morgan said of McRoberts, his co-captain. “You know, like I said early in the season, he’s the guy you’d love to have on your team but hate to go against, and I think that just holds true in everything he does.”

The same could be said at this point about Morgan, as gritty and and consistent a player as Indiana has enjoyed in recent years.

Others had their moments inside of Sunday’s blowout, IU’s fourth win in a row, and several players contributed to the 23-4 run Indiana used to create separation during a seven-minute stretch early in the first half. Romeo Langford (20 points) and Devonte Green (16 points) also finished in double figures for the Hoosiers.

But the day belonged to Morgan. It was his stage, and he used it to make a point.

He and the Hoosiers are playing their best basketball of the season, and by the looks of it, they’re not done yet.

“Just coming out with the win,” Morgan said. “I think it was as good as it could have been just going out the last time on this court in front of all these fans.”