As an abysmal night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall wore on in Monday night’s loss to Nebraska, senior forward Juwan Morgan labored up and down the court.
While he still filled the scorer’s sheet with 17 points on 8-of-15 shooting along with eight rebounds, there was a certain level of tiredness in his game.
Morgan, like in the first half of the game against No. 2 Michigan on Jan. 6, uncharacteristically missed a number of shots in and around the rim.
Perhaps it was the quick turnaround from a Friday night game at Maryland, that had him worn. More likely, it was Morgan's average of 29.4 minutes per game.
“He's getting tired out there,” IU Coach Archie Miller said. “I thought he got tired against Michigan, some of the finishes that he had. He's going up against big bodies. He's playing a lot of minutes.”
As Miller notes, some of the wear comes from the physical nature of Morgan’s game. The Waynesville, Missouri, native does most of his dirty work in the paint and on the boards, using a combination of muscle, fancy footwork and touch to beat his defenders.
The same physicality can be seen in Morgan’s defense. At 6 feet 8 inches and 230 pounds, he’s undersized at center, and his athletic ability, while solid, doesn’t jump off the page. It’s his intangibles — body positioning, hands and footwork — that make him a stellar defender. But with 45 personal fouls, the most on the team, the wear and tear on the defensive end can take its toll.
“We're asking him to do a lot on both ends of the floor,” Miller said. “And you can tell sometimes he's gassed out there, and that's where the depth comes in and the trust comes in and being able to get him opportunities to get quick blows.”
Beyond the physical, Morgan's statistics reflect his importance. He leads the team in win shares, an estimate of the number of wins a player contributes based on his offense and defense, at 3.3. Beyond freshman guard Romeo Langford, who sits second on the team at three, no other player contributes more than 1.2 wins.
Morgan is desperately needed on the floor, Miller said health has been a major factor in preventing him from getting the intermittent rest the coaching staff desires.
When healthy, De'Ron Davis has given IU a legitimate presence in the paint outside of Morgan on both ends of the floor, but a nagging ankle injury has plagued him this season.
Davis played sparingly against both Maryland and Nebraska, and Miller said Monday he isn’t ready to play real minutes.
Sophomore forward Clifton Moore performed admirably in his place, scoring five points along with three rebounds in five minutes of action.
Redshirt freshman forward Race Thompson remains injured, and freshman forward Jerome Hunter is officially headed for a redshirt per announcement on Don Fischer’s radio show Monday.
Health aside, Miller is still plotting a perfect formula to get Morgan more respite as IU heads into a conference slate featuring 12 teams in the KenPom Ratings top-65.
"In these games right now, they're just so hotly contested and he's such an important piece to what we're doing, he's got to be out there," Miller said. "We just probably need to do a better job of picking our spots when we can get him a quick blow."
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