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Published: Monday, 4/6/2009

Morgan's confidence returns

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT - For Raymar Morgan, the mask is a good fit. It protects a recently broken nose, but it also adds that little slice of intrigue to his persona.

The junior forward for Michigan State is not Zorro, not the Lone Ranger, or the Phantom of the Opera, but he employed some of the stealth and anonymity of those famously veiled characters when he played the hero's role in the Spartans' 82-73 win over UConn in Saturday night's NCAA semifinal.

That puts the masked Morgan, who had a good share of his wealth of skills discounted over the last few months by illness and injury, into the NCAA title game tonight against North Carolina.

Morgan said that after an extended bout with mononucleosis and walking pneumonia during the season, the busted schnozz he suffered in the Sweet Sixteen round of the tournament eroded more of his waning confidence.

"It was a struggle. I wondered what was going to happen next," Morgan said yesterday. "I was just so inconsistent due to the injuries and things like that, and I didn't feel like I was doing much to help my team. It's a really bad feeling to have, day after day."

Morgan had four points and one rebound in the Kansas game, then no points and two rebounds in the regional final - a stunning upset of overall No. 1 seed Louisville. He had averaged 15.2 points and seven rebounds per game before to his health issues.

"We've got decent depth on this team, but we needed Raymar," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "Raymar is a difference-maker."

Izzo was a long way from certain that would again be the case, especially after Morgan started off the month of February with no points and just three minutes of action in a home loss to Penn State. Morgan missed the next three games, and had a stretch of eight straight where he did not score in double figures.

"It's hard and difficult when a guy gets injured, if it's more than a sprained ankle or something, and if it's an injury that lasts a long time," Izzo said. "In a lot of ways, it's harder to come back than you think, especially when you're under fire."

Morgan crawled back for a while, and played less than 20 minutes in Michigan State's NCAA tournament wins over USC and Kansas, and then just 10 minutes against Lousiville.

"Adversity comes when it comes, and you can't really stop it," Morgan said. "I've been through a lot of it, and I think I've matured in some ways to overcome those things."

Morgan wore what was essentially an off-the-shelf mask to protect his broken nose against Louisville, but once the Spartans got back home he was fitted with the custom cover he wore in the win over UConn. Morgan's 18 points, nine rebounds and five steals were essentially the death knell for the favored Huskies, and highlighted his best game since Jan. 3 when he had 22 points and 13 boards against Northwestern.

"The first mask I had, it was hard to see, and I couldn't breathe with it on. This one is a lot better, but it helps that I just feel good now, after feeling bad for so long," the 6-8 junior from Canton McKinley said. "Last night against UConn, that was just definitely a relief. I feel a lot better, and my confidence has skyrocketed."

Contact Matt Markey at

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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