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INDIANAPOLIS — One might argue that Jordan Morgan made a profitable sale. Others might call it a convincing flop.
A controversy began to rage when officials deemed Morgan successfully defended against and drew a charging foul on Jarnell Stokes in the final 10 seconds of the Michigan men’s basketball team’s 73-71 win over Tennessee. Was it a legitimate foul? Was it good acting by Morgan? Was this a block or was it a charge?
It was a calculated decision by an inside man. Morgan insisted he wasn’t straying from his responsibility as a defender but instead maneuvering into Stokes’ style of play. Even Stokes offered some concession.
“I don’t think I fouled him,” Tennessee’s junior forward said. “But it was a smart play for him to try to take the charge. He pretty much anticipated it.”
Morgan made a basketball move that was as much cerebral as it was physical, and it sparked a debate that continued into the next day. By then, Tennessee had returned to Knoxville and Morgan and the No. 2 Wolverines remained in Indianapolis to prepare for the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight. Michigan (28-8) faces No. 8 Kentucky (27-10) at 5:05 p.m. today at Lucas Oil Stadium.
On a guard-rich team, Morgan has elevated himself in UM’s NCAA tournament run. The fifth-year senior forward took the reins of the position from an injured NBA prospect. He’s helped bring the Wolverines back to basketball prominence.
“We were picked to finish last in the Big Ten in my first year,” said Morgan, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward who went to Detroit Jesuit. “Now, there’s two Big Ten championships, an Elite Eight appearance, a national championship appearance. It’s come a long way. Everything has grown. Everything is so much different from when I got here.”
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Since he arrived at Michigan, he’s dropped 30 pounds and has recovered from knee and shoulder surgeries and ankle problems. He even considered transferring after last season; Morgan averaged 9.8 points and 7.1 rebounds in his first three seasons, then took over the spot in the lineup vacated by Mitch McGary, who hasn’t played since December because of a back injury and subsequent surgery.
While Morgan’s numbers weren’t gaudy during the regular season (6.2 points, 5.03 rebounds per game) Kentucky coach John Calipari assessed Morgan’s role.
“He is much better than you think,” Calipari said. “He understands how a big man in that offense has to play. He does a great job of screening. He does a great job of slipping. He will fly up and down the floor. He understands pick-and-rolls and how to get the man on his body, yet fly down the middle. He plays and understands his role in this offense much better than everybody thinks he does or gives him enough credit for.”
Morgan has done it with mix of strength, size, savvy, and intelligence. After all, he earned his degree in manufacturing engineering and is pursuing his master’s degree in industrial engineering — and he professes that he’s never gotten a true break from school in the last five years, even with a redshirt in 2009-2010.
“You can’t let people tell you what you can’t do,” said Morgan, who is averaging 13.3 points and nine rebounds in three tournament games. “I just don’t listen to it. When I was choosing my master’s program they told me I couldn’t finish it in a year, but I wasn’t really hearing it. I thought, ‘how can I do it?’ ”
As Michigan pursues a return to the Final Four, Morgan is working on another project: designing a facility that focuses on three-dimensional printing of orthotics, including machine requirements, personnel requirements, and location requirements.
Morgan, meanwhile, is part of the machine that Michigan basketball has become. He made his pivotal move Friday to draw a charge on Stokes with six seconds left, which gave possession of the ball to Michigan. Morgan attributed that decision to a combination of experience, maturity, and instinct.
“It’s instinctive because I’ve seen it so many times,” Morgan said. “I’ve done it so many times. I was taking charges in high school, and it’s something that I do as a player. I’ve been doing it for years now in the Big Ten.”
Before he left the podium Saturday afternoon, he was asked about drawing that key foul. With a quick grin, Morgan attempted to put some debate and doubt to rest.
“It was a charge,” Morgan said. “Yeah, it was a charge.”