Everett Cook: The redemption song of Jordan Morgan

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By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published April 7, 2013

ATLANTA — Let’s crunch this remarkable, ridiculous and insane season down into one moment. Let’s condense it, split away the narratives and plays, and find the core and the heart of why this Michigan men’s basketball team is playing for a national championship on Monday night.

It comes in one of the auxiliary locker rooms in the underbelly of the Georgia Dome, away from the court and hidden from the cameras.

Just like they do after every win, the Wolverines elect a player to lead them in “The Victors.” It’s selected by the players, not the coaches or anyone else.

On Saturday, after Michigan’s 61-56 win over Syracuse, the man leading the song played five minutes, didn’t corral a single rebound and scored just three points. Seven other Wolverines scored more than he did, and he was the only player who saw action that didn’t record a rebound.

What Jordan Morgan did have was a pair of charges and a dunk that sent the Wolverines to their first National Championship game since 1993. For a player who started 27 games this year, but played a combined total of one minute in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, it was a night of redemption.

With 19 seconds left and Michigan clinging to a two point lead, Morgan jumped from one side of the key to the other, throwing his body in the path of Syracuse guard Brandon Triche, who was barreling down the lane, trying to tie the game.

The play sealed the win.

After the game, the players said the charge would go down as the biggest offensive foul in the history of Michigan basketball.

The Wolverines have the National Player of the Year and more future NBA talent than almost any other team in the country, but take away the highlights and the hype, and a charge — the act of being voluntarily run over — was celebrated more than any other play.

“That’s the definition of our team, from a guy who was starting and was first team All-Defense, to not playing one minute — (Morgan) just stayed with it,” said senior captain Josh Bartelstein. “He knew he was going to get his moment, and when you get your chance, you make the most of it.”

Added redshirt sophomore Jon Horford: “I don’t know if the fans understand that was the biggest play of the game.”

Eighteen seconds later, junior forward Tim Hardaway Jr. almost fell out of bounds trying to collect a rebound. The ball got to Morgan, who was around midcourt. He needed only one dribble before taking off, jamming Michigan’s national title berth in with two hands.

This is someone who didn’t play a single minute in Michigan’s win over Virginia Commonwealth in the second round of the tournament. He was visibly frustrated after the game, visibly frustrated about having to take a backseat to the emergence of freshman forward Mitch McGary. He was on the Big Ten All-Defense Team and still wasn’t seeing the court.

But the next day, and the day after that, and two weeks after that, Morgan preached that he was doing whatever he could to help the team, whether that meant getting playing time or not.

It was hard to completely buy it. How could he not have been pissed off, frustrated and angry?

Then Sunday, Morgan stayed in his role as the defensive specialist that doesn’t fill the stat sheet. He didn’t try to force his game, didn’t try to impress the coaches or fans or his teammates with anything other than his own game.

He did what Jordan Morgan does: he slid over, planted his feet and got run over.

“That’s how you get to Monday night,” said Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander. “For Jordan Morgan to have the adversity that he experienced and then to turn around and have the type of huge defensive stops in a game on a stage that’s so big — it’s redemption for that young man.”

When Morgan was taken out of the starting lineup for good, back before the first game of the Tournament, nobody acted like his season was done, even though he played more minutes in the first game of the Big Ten season than he did combined in the first four games of the NCAA Tournament.

“Three weeks ago, we told Jordan that if we win this whole thing, you are going to have a moment that’s going to be the reason we win,” Bartelstein said. “Sure enough, his moment came tonight. He did something that will make him remembered for the rest of his life by Michigan fans. Everyone was happier for him than for anyone else. That’s our team.”

That’s what makes this Michigan team different. It’s partially the talent and it’s partially the coaching staff, but it’s also a togetherness and mindset that allows for a forgotten big man to make the most important play in the most important game of the Wolverines season.

That might not happen with another program, but it happened with Michigan, who now sits 40 minutes away from a national championship.