MILWAUKEE — A little more than 30 minutes after pulling down his final rebound of the day to complete a double-double, a reporter began to ask Jordan Morgan something about “being doubted a little bit.”
“A little bit?” Morgan said, interrupting the question with a hearty chuckle.
He was back in the same locker room where, a day earlier, he took question after question about how the Michigan men’s basketball team, but specifically he, was going to stop the 6-foot-9, 285-pound Texas forward Cameron Ridley.
Twenty-four hours later, a smug Morgan was grinning while answering questions not only about how he shut down Ridley to the tune of six points on 2-of-5 shooting, but also about his 15 points and 10 rebounds — both season highs.
“We spent two whole days hearing about how hard it was going to be to stop those guys in the post,” Morgan said. “That’s the fun part. Just proving everybody wrong.
“You see teams like this, you hear all that stuff and you just go out there and show them … what we’ve been doing all year.”
The two-day preparation for the Longhorns had Michigan coach John Beilein fretting about how his undersized frontline would be able to handle Texas — one of the nation’s biggest frontcourts. Morgan and his backup, redshirt junior forward Jon Horford, have each struggled with foul trouble.
The Longhorns average more than 26 foul shots per game — just a few less than the nation’s leader — a testament to the high number of shooting fouls they draw, despite not being in the country’s top 50 in fouls drawn.
“We were very concerned about how we were going to stop (Ridley), but (Morgan) kept telling me, ‘Coach, I got it. I got it,’ ” Beilein said. “I was worried about foul trouble and we said, ‘Max, you’ve got to be ready,’ ‘Jon, you’ve got to be ready.’ And Jordan handled it all by himself beautifully.”
Did he ever.
Morgan handled Ridley’s load while hardly taking a break; his 35 minutes on Saturday matched a career high. In that game, in February of his 2011 sophomore season, the Wolverines upset No. 6 Ohio State while Morgan held All-American Jared Sullinger to 6-of-14 shooting.
It was that lead-in to that game, specifically Morgan’s eagerness to carry the load and quell so many doubters, that reminded Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander so much of Morgan’s focus before the Texas game.
“I kind of chuckled a little bit because he was frowning at some of the dining-room staff at the hotel and I was like, ‘Jordan, what’s going on?’ ” Alexander said. “He was like, ‘I’m just thinking about Ridley.’ To that end, Jordan is the type of guy who’s wired to try to rise to the occasion.
“It was extremely personal.”
“I was excited for this one,” he said. “Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, he’s only 6-(foot)-8, 240 (pounds). How is he going to hold his own?’ Just showing everybody — I ain’t got a lot of body fat on me. There’s been a lot of weights lifted over these last five years and I’m not about to just roll over.”
Michigan’s perimeter offense will certainly garner the majority of the offensive headlines, as its 14 3-pointers were an NCAA Tournament school record. But Morgan’s efficiency in the paint (4-of-7 shooting) and at the line (7-of-8) gave the Wolverines a healthy inside-out presence not all that different than the one Texas was supposed to threaten Michigan with.
But at the end of the day, it was Morgan’s defensive effort that stands out most. With little production down low, Texas never really got going, shooting just 37.1 percent from the field.
“(Ridley) really likes to play bully ball and push people in the paint,” Morgan said. “I didn’t move.”
It has been a long time coming for the fifth-year senior, at times one of the faces of the program and at others, like throughout last year’s NCAA Tournament run, an emergency reserve used sparingly.
A year ago, when Michigan was in the same round against VCU, “he couldn’t have been lower in his life,” Beilein recalled of the game where Morgan didn’t play a single minute.
Now, though, few teams in the country are playing as well as the Wolverines and it’s Morgan at the helm, navigating the Sweet 16 team headed to Indianapolis.
“It kind of makes me think about Michael Jackson’s last concert tour — it was called the ‘This Is It’ tour,” Alexander said. “Jordan Morgan is on his own ‘This Is It’ tour and I think he feels it every time he steps on the floor — those are the most important 40 minutes of his life.”