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Simon Kaufman: Morgan answers doubters, again

Teresa Mathew/Daily
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By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 28, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS — It was the first question he got last week leading up to the Texas game, and it was the first one he got this week before the Tennessee matchup.

And before anyone even had the chance to ask it again, fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan shouted his answer after the Michigan men’s basketball team held on to win, 73-71, against the Volunteers.

“Mismatch my ass!” Morgan yelled as he ran into the tunnel after the game.

How are you going to stop their big men down low?

Last weekend in Milwaukee, Morgan answered the question a day before the game to a handful of media members, then the next day he answered on the court with more than 18,000 watching at the Bradley Center. He held Longhorn center Cameron Ridley to just six points despite being an inch shorter and 35 pounds lighter.

Friday, a day after taking questions about another tough matchup — this time with Volunteer forward Jarnell Starks, who measures 6-foot-8, 260 pounds — he went out and answered again.

Stokes — who came into the game averaging 15.2 points and 11 rebounds per game — was held to just 11 points and six boards. On the other end, Morgan scored a team-high 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

He didn’t just lead the team in points, he completely outmatched Stokes. To begin the second half Morgan slammed down a dunk then swatted Tennessee shots on its next two possessions. Late in the half he dropped in a hook shot from the paint to end an 8-0 Volunteer run.

And when Tennessee had the ball with six seconds left and was down only one point, Morgan set his feet and took a charge.

Foul on Stokes. Michigan ball. On to the Elite Eight.

***

He has a chip on his shoulder — that’s why he’s playing so well. At least that’s what the media has collectively decided. And Morgan and his teammates don’t disagree.

“We all go out there with a chip on our shoulders,” sophomore guard Caris LeVert said. “Especially (Morgan) knowing that people are going to try to go at him every game. They think he’s too small, but he continues to play well”

Added sophomore guard Spike Albrecht: “I think he definitely notices it when people kind of disrespect him and his size and his talent. He plays with a little chip on his shoulder. He’s been told that stuff his whole life.”

Even a big game on the big stage won't change that. Because after shutting down Stokes, Morgan knew the questions would come again. The reporters swarmed him when he came into the locker room after the game, and he laughed as he tried to find a spot where everyone could fit around him.

Morgan was asked about it, and then he was asked again as if he didn’t understand it the first time. Each question a new version of the one asked before.

But he’s got 10 pounds on you?

How were you able to hang with him?

When are people going to stop doubting you?

And Morgan’s answer to the last one: “I hope they don’t. Keep doing it. We like it.”

Like it or not, the questions will still be there. And the Wolverines might prefer it that way. Morgan has been averaging 13 points and seven rebounds in the tournament this year.

Michigan coach John Beilein noted that when the team tried practicing double teaming in preparation for the Volunteers’ size, Morgan was offended.

“He wanted Stokes by himself, no help,” Beilein said. “ ‘I can handle him.’ The Minister of Defense. He was going to handle him, and he did.”

But Morgan likes it. He likes the questions. He likes that he’s doubted.

Asked about Tennessee’s decision to have Stokes challenge Morgan at the end of the game, Morgan sounded shocked that any team would ever question his ability.

“They went at me (to win) the game. It was kinda like,” Morgan paused to let out a smug laugh. “I guess.”

A season ago, doubting Morgan was fair. He missed layups in the paint. He let passes slip through his hands. He still does both sometimes — but now, he’s proved himself, and it’s not reasonable to question him anymore, even if he wishes you would.

“Keep saying we gonna lose,” he said. “Keep saying we can’t hang, and we’ll keep proving you wrong.”

Kaufman can be reached at sjkauf@umich.edu or on Twitter @sjkauf.