March 9, 2014
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
On Tuesday night (March 4), following a win at Illinois, the University of Michigan men's basketball team had a small celebration in the locker room of the State Farm Center. For the first time since 1986, the Wolverines had captured the outright Big Ten regular-season title.
Yet the team's merriment was subdued by the knowledge that there was still one more game left to win in the conference season. Though their goal of becoming the sole Big Ten champions had already been obtained, there was still more to fight for, even before postseason play. Saturday's (March 8) finale against Indiana at Crisler Center represented one more opponent to defeat, one more chance to win a game in front of a sold-out crowd of 12,707 fans, and an opportunity to capture a win for fifth-year Jordan Morgan on his senior night.
Adding to the Wolverines' sense of urgency was the fact that they had dropped the last three games against the Hoosiers. In addition to a loss at Assembly Hall earlier this season, Indiana spoiled Michigan's senior night a year ago, in a dramatic 72-71 finish which saw Morgan miss a tip at the buzzer. For both Morgan and Michigan as a whole, though the trophy was already theirs, the Big Ten regular season was not yet complete.
Morgan left everything on the court from the opening tip against the Hoosiers. The senior forward gave his all to help lead his team to victory, scoring Michigan's first six points of the game and fighting for crucial rebounds. At the end of the night, the senior co-captain had recorded a double-double -- his first of the season -- with 15 points and 10 rebounds to go along with two steals. His emphatic play helped the Wolverines to a difficult 84-80 victory that went down to the wire.
"I can't say enough about the young man (Morgan)," said head coach John Beilein. "His willpower over his four, five years, it came to fruition today. Our team was sort of like that the whole game. Not many things went well for us. At the beginning, the ball was bouncing their way, they were making great plays. All of a sudden, we just stuck in there, just like Jordan has over his five years. Just go on to the next play."
"The way he played was incredible," added sophomore Spike Albrecht, "and it's a tribute to the type of person he is. I couldn't have been happier for him."
For his part, Morgan says he was "just trying to do everything I could to help us win."
With a final win against Indiana under their belt, the Wolverines were able to take a moment to enjoy the fruit of their hard work and properly enjoy their Big Ten championship. The players took to the court to sing "The Victors" in front of the energetic and adoring crowd, and they were then showered by blue and gold confetti as they were presented with the Big Ten regular-season trophy. Afterwards, they celebrated by cutting down the nets, taking a moment to reflect on the season thus far.
"Man, this is unbelievable," sophomore Nik Stauskas said. "We had so many things happen throughout this year with injuries and people doubting us; a tough preseason. And for us to come together and win this championship -- there's no better feeling than this."
"It's very special for all of us," Albrecht added. "What we've overcome this year -- as far as losing guys last year, Mitch (McGary) going down -- we've faced a lot of adversity and we've overcome it. We stuck together and we just kept fighting. Great things happen when you stick together."
"It feels great," said sophomore Caris LeVert. "We've really been battling for this all year long, since the summertime. Just to get this win feels awesome."
LeVert also noted that the final win against Indiana added to the feeling of celebration. By beating the Hoosiers, the 2013-14 squad became the first Wolverine side since 1992 to defeat each of its opponents in the Big Ten at least once during the season.
"The sophomores were 0-3 against Indiana," LeVert said, "so it feels great to finally get a win."
"It means everything," Morgan said. "It shows what hard work and determination can do when guys band together and focus on each other.
"It was great. The fans came out and packed [Crisler Center]. For us to fight so hard and get this win -- we've lost our past two senior nights, so we really wanted to finish this out right."