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Morgan explodes against Wildcats for career-best night

Chris Ryba/Daily
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BY BEN ESTES
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 9, 2011

It was only fitting that Jordan Morgan snatched the final rebound of Wednesday night’s game against Northwestern.

And it was only fitting that the redshirt freshman forward did it with authority.

The same player that came into the matchup averaging 7.3 points in Big Ten contests — the same player who Michigan coach John Beilein said was spending too much time acting like an assistant coach, since he was so often relegated to the bench with bouts of foul trouble — had the performance of a lifetime in the Wolverines’ 75-66 victory.

Morgan busted out for a career-high 27 points, topping his previous totals of 20 and 23 points recorded earlier this season. Those performances came against Gardner Webb and NAIA squad Concordia, respectively — this one came against a tough Wildcat team that blew Michigan out just three weeks ago.

“He did a marvelous job of finishing,” assistant coach Bacari Alexander said. “You knew that day would come, you just didn’t know when it would come. I’m really happy for Jordan’s success today.”

All season long, Beilein and Alexander have talked about how Morgan is learning and developing into the physical post presence the Wolverines sorely need and have lacked for several years.

On Wednesday night, the Detroit native finally validated his coaches’ faith.

“It kind of just got rolling,” Morgan said. “A couple things fell my way … It’s not so much waiting (to break out) as realizing that (the ability’s) there, and just pushing myself to do the best that I can on every possession, defensively and offensively.

“(I) just (want to) show people that I can play.”

Morgan thrived all night working the pick-and-roll with sophomore point guard Darius Morris. On defense, Northwestern typically switches, letting screeners slip off their picks.

And the Wildcats — like Michigan’s last two opponents — put more of an emphasis on locking down the Wolverines’ shooters. As a result, Morgan constantly found himself open rolling to the basket or slipping past defenders while cutting to the hoop. Morris consistently found him, and the big man finished.

“Darius is a great passer, and lot’s of times, he’s a passer first,” Morgan said. “He’s just recognizing (on) switches that I was going to be under the basket. He trusted me to finish them, and I came through for him.”

The Wolverines rarely look inside for offense this season, but the team’s first points on Wednesday came from a give to Morgan.

“After we ran a couple of our normal plays, once I got to the lane, it was like two people or three people (collapsing) on me,” Morris said. “The right play was (to) Jordan Morgan.

“They didn't adjust, and he just kept making layups.”

And the forward closed the first half with a flourish. After receiving a pass from freshman guard Tim Hardaway Jr., Morgan accidentally hit the ball off the backboard.

But it came right back to him — just another indication it was Morgan’s night — and he put it back to give him his 17th point and Michigan the 34-19 halftime lead.

Northwestern slowed him down slightly in the second half, but only by fouling him on all his strong takes to the basket and sending him to the line for five free throw attempts.

When the Wolverines needed him again, though, Morgan responded. With the deficit down to three points late in the game, he blocked JerShon Cobb’s layup, hit his own shot on the other end, finished an alley-oop and then stunted Michael Thompson’s 3-point attempt with a powerful hedge off a screen.

“Tonight he was just feeling it,” freshman forward Jon Horford said. “He was doing great, no matter where you threw him the ball. He was just taking his time, pivoting, getting open buckets ... He definitely earned his points.”

Beilein cautioned that the young big man has plenty more developing to do. Still, for one night, Jordan Morgan had his moment.