Juwan Morgan is the hero the Hoosiers need but don’t deserve.
Three days after the junior forward suffered a left ankle injury that kept him out of more than a half against Michigan State, Morgan was a game-time decision for IU and delivered another great performance against Maryland.
There were doubts that Morgan was going to play against the Terrapins, but he put those doubts to rest for not only the night, but the future as well.
He logged 36 minutes Monday night and scored 25 points to go with five rebounds and four assists. If Morgan did feel any pain in his ankle he didn’t show it, and he didn’t skip a beat either.
From the start of the game, Morgan looked just as quick as he has all season. He showed elusiveness down low on the block, and he impressed in transition on both ends of the floor.
The best example of how much IU needs Morgan and why he’s so important came in the middle of the second half, when he was subbed out for senior forward Freddie McSwain Jr.
For almost a minute and a half, the Hoosiers had their best player on the bench for a quick breather. Morgan rarely sat on the bench, and once he stepped off the court, IU looked like they had no clue what to do.
It took one minute and 18 seconds for IU Coach Archie Miller to realize that the frontcourt of senior forward Collin Hartman and McSwain wasn’t going to work, especially on the block. IU went scoreless during that stretch, and Morgan stayed in the game until the final buzzer sounded.
IU won, but it was an ugly finish to the game. Senior guard Josh Newkirk had a chance to seal the game for the Hoosiers after he stepped up to the free throw line with his team up by just one point.
Newkirk missed both free throws, and suddenly, IU’s chances of winning squandered.
Until No. 13 came down with the rebound. Morgan saved the day by pulling down Newkirk’s second miss and laying the ball off the glass and into the net.
It put the Hoosiers up by three, but it could’ve been a totally different situation had the Terrapins came down with the board. Morgan wouldn’t let that happen.
The reality is that IU struggles without Morgan on the floor, and even though it’s good to have a reliable scorer and leader, it shouldn’t make or break a team when he has to be subbed out for more than a minute. The frontcourt is thin without sophomore forward De’Ron Davis, but the lack of productivity without Morgan should still have no excuses.
Hartman should be able to fill the void left by Morgan. The statistics don’t have to live up to Morgan’s par, but when the offense looks lost without the starting forward, it’s quite concerning.
Sure, McSwain isn’t going to put up extraordinary numbers while Morgan sits on the bench, but a layup, a put-back, even an assist can go a long way.
Some of the blame can be placed on the backcourt, too. Yes, senior guard Robert Johnson had a solid game, but he and Newkirk are most important when the best player on the team isn’t a factor. Newkirk disappointed once again, scoring five points with just one assist and one rebound, while dealing with foul trouble for most of the game.
Without Morgan, IU was outscored 9-7 by the Terrapins and it could’ve been by more if Maryland hadn’t gotten out of its own way at the end of the game.
The win was an important one for the Hoosiers, who now travel to Illinois Wednesday night.
It provides yet another opportunity for the frontcourt to click without Morgan. IU’s biggest strength is down low on the block, but without Morgan, it can be the team’s greatest weakness.
At this point, IU's success comes down to how well he plays.
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