Jan. 6, 2014
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
Michigan's 74-51 win against Northwestern on Sunday afternoon (Jan. 5) got off to a slow start. Both teams were in single digits for nearly nine minutes. Not until sophomore Nik Stauskas hit a jumper with 10:56 left in the first half did Michigan record a double-digit score, going up 11-10 over the Wildcats.
If the Wolverines were to pull away and gain a sizable lead over Northwestern going into halftime, it would take a spark to get them going. Fifth-year senior co-captain Jordan Morgan was just the catalyst Michigan needed.
Morgan made an early impact, grabbing a steal to give Michigan the possession that would open scoring on a layup from freshman Derrick Walton Jr. Yet, less than four minutes into the game, Morgan picked up a foul and remained on the bench until the 8:13 mark of the first half.
When Morgan returned to the game, Michigan held a slim 13-12 lead. A pass from Stuaskas to Morgan for a layup just moments later began an 11-3 run by the Wolverines, to which the senior captain was a major contributor.
By halftime, Michigan had opened up the lead 31-24, and Morgan was Michigan's leading scorer with eight points.
However, Morgan brought energy to the team, not only by scoring, but by grabbing rebounds and making hustle plays, such as diving on the floor for loose balls.
"We were just having fun," Morgan said. "I just wanted to bring a lot of energy to the team, and some intensity to the defense especially."
Since the beginning of the season, Michigan's players have underlined defense as a key area of improvement for their young team.
"Our defense has been such a point of emphasis, playing primarily man-to-man," said head coach John Beilein. "People are starting to understand how to guard their individual guy."
As Michigan's oldest and most experienced player, as well as a Big-Ten All-Defensive team selection last year, Morgan has consistently been a leader on defense for the Wolverines, helping to facilitate communication between his teammates. Against Northwestern, Morgan's defensive abilities were on full display. In the 18 minutes Morgan saw the court, the Wolverines outscored the Wildcats by 26 points.
Good communication, Morgan believes, is what allowed Michigan to limit Northwestern to 51 points on Sunday.
"We just stayed connected all game long," Morgan said. "We communicated very well and we were really into our scouting report and knew some of the sets they wanted to accomplish and we were able to disrupt those."
Morgan and fellow captain redshirt junior Jon Horford have been the subject of much scrutiny since it was announced that sophomore forward Mitch McGary would be out indefinitely after deciding to undergo back surgery for a lower back condition that has plagued him all season. Much attention has been placed on how Morgan and Horford will make up for the production lost in McGary's absence.
Yet Morgan and Horford keep the game in perspective, realizing that the most important thing is not their individual stats, but how they contribute to the team's goals.
"As the oldest people on the team, the most experienced people on the team, we know it's our job to keep everybody focused and keep each other focused," said Horford. "Sometimes it might be my night. Sometimes it might be his night. But at the end of the day, it's all about getting wins. So, regardless of what happens, as long as we have a post presence contributing, it doesn't matter if it's me, Jordan, or Max (Bielfeldt). We're all about the win."Living together as roommates also helps Morgan and Horford to encourage each other in their roles as leaders and role players on the team.
"When you live with somebody, you get close to them. So we just continue to encourage each other in our roles on the team and continue to be each other's biggest fans and cheer for each other," said Morgan.
Sunday was Morgan's night to contribute, as the senior forward added eight points on a perfect 3-of-3 shooting, while grabbing eight boards.
Morgan has important roles to fill this year, both as a captain and by playing major minutes in McGary's absence. Furthermore, he recognizes that as a forward, it is crucial for him to finish around the rim so that the guards feel comfortable running their offense through the post."They just were confident in throwing those passes," Morgan said, when asked how his teammates were able to find him for open buckets. "As bigs we finish. It's on us to give our teammates that confidence to throw us the ball like that." "They're really good players, and really good players see the best play," added Horford of Michigan's guards. "It's not always running a play, it's just trying to get the best shot possible. We have great guards on our team, great wings -- players with great vision. We know they're going to hit us. We've just got to finish it for them."
On Sunday, Morgan finished strong. And that made a major impact for the Wolverines.