ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Death, taxes, Juwan Morgan.
The senior forward has done it all for the Hoosiers this season.
A 35-point outburst against Butler University was something to behold. A week later, he recorded just the second triple-double in program history when he notched 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists against Jacksonville University.
But in the first half of Sunday’s 74-63 loss to No. 2 Michigan, Morgan was off.
Working primarily on junior center Jon Teske, he couldn’t buy a bucket. Shot after shot in and around the rim rolled, hopped or spun off the iron. Morgan finished the first half 4 of 12 from the field.
With a meager shooting performance in tow and two quick fouls, Morgan’s first half efforts were stymied. IU entered the break trailing 44-29.
“I've got to give credit to Michigan,” Morgan said. “They made it really tough just to get catches. It was really, I'm not saying tired legs, but it was tough to get those catches, and every time I touched it, they were hounding me, they were hounding the catches. Posting up was a hard thing to do.”
As the second half got underway, so too did Morgan. First, Michigan Coach John Beilein threw Teske back at him. Morgan responded with three quick baskets, the third of which earned Teske his third personal foul and a seat on the bench.
Next up was junior forward Austin Davis. Same result. Minutes into his trial, Morgan burned Davis for an and one that garnered the Michigan big man his fourth foul.
Freshman forward Brandon Johns Jr. was Beilein’s final attempt to slow the Hoosiers’ senior captain. Johns had marginal success, but Morgan remained hot, keeping IU within striking distance down the stretch.
"That guy just keeps getting baskets,” Beilein said postgame. “He gets under everybody.”
Morgan finished the night with 25 points, 15 of which came in the second half, and eight rebounds on 9 of 22 shooting against a Michigan defense that ranks fourth in the KenPom.com adjusted defense ratings.
“It was just a matter of doing my work early,” Morgan said. “Early on in the first half, I was trying to find it in the flow of the offense, but sometimes, the best offense is just running down and getting the seal. People aren't usually ready for the post-up right off the fast break, and sometimes that's the best offense.”
While Morgan set the tone in the second half, his slow start was emblematic of this Hoosier team. Lackadaisical starts have plagued Miller’s squad all season. Sunday was no different.
IU’s bench was short to begin with as Rob Phinisee remains in concussion protocol and De’Ron Davis was a game time scratch due to an ankle issue.
With Morgan and freshman guard Romeo Langford toiling through foul trouble in the first half, a smorgasbord of role players replaced IU’s top-two scorers against the nation’s No. 2 team.
The Wolverines attacked the reserves, jumping to a 30-13 lead just 10 minutes in.
Miller said there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to lack of early energy, but he feels defense and toughness are the first steps.
“In all reality, to me, it starts with our defense,” Miller said. “Our defense is sort of our key to what we’re trying do in terms of being a tough-minded group. And if you’re going to give a team 30 points in the first eight minutes it’s on your defense as much as your offense. You can say both but defensively we’ve got to be better out of the gates.”
Morgan turned in another vintage performance Sunday. But unlike the Butler or Jacksonville games, he couldn’t will the Hoosiers out of their self-inflicted deficit.
“We have to start like that from the beginning,” Morgan said IU's second half performance. “We can't let it get to 17, 15, whatever it was. We can't let it get to that point. We have to stay within it, and find ourselves within each war, and not let wars get away from us.”
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