Jordan Morgan Saves the Day, Muscles Michigan Into Elite Eight

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterMarch 29, 2014

Michigan head coach John Beilein celebrates with Jordan Morgan (52) after an NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal college basketball tournament game against the Tennessee Friday, March 28, 2014, in Indianapolis. Michigan won 73-71.(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip

INDIANAPOLIS  If Michigan was going to get back to the Final Four this year, the man who many thought would lead this team there was last year's big man of March, Mitch McGary.

For the first time in months on Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, McGary dressed in uniform because he was tired of wearing a suit. It's hard feeling like you're not needed. 

And guess what? McGary may just not be needed. Not this year. Not the way this team plays. Not with this Jordan Morgan.

"Last year I was playing big man and I wasn't as wise and knowing as Jordan," McGary said.

The wise one, the only senior on Michigan's roster, helped Michigan survive Tennessee, 73-71, on Friday night at Lucas Oil Stadium when Tennessee somehow had a chance to win the game in the final seconds.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 28:  Jordan Morgan #52 of the Michigan Wolverines reacts against Tennessee Volunteers during the regional semifinal of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 28, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Ph
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

That's when big, 260-pound Jarnell Stokes dropped his left shoulder and Morgan took a hit right in the chest, falling to the ground for a charge.

"Sometimes the smart take from the strong," Michigan assistant coach LaVall Jordan said. "J-Mo knew the scouting report and did a great job moving his feet."

Morgan also knew the challenge.

That was trying to stop the big and bad tandem of Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, 520 pounds between them.

The knock on the Wolverines is they're too small without McGary, and Michigan coach John Beilein doesn't mind poking the bear. 

Beilein, according to McGary, told Morgan all week that Stokes was going to "kick your butt." 

The final stat sheet said differently. 

Morgan outscored Stokes and Maymon by himself, 15-13, and he nearly matched them on the boards as well, pulling down seven boards to their combined nine.

"We heard all week about they had mismatches and how we couldn't guard them inside," Morgan said. "I guess people forgot we play in the Big Ten and we won the Big Ten outright.

"So we're not really soft around here. That's not who we are. We lift a lot of weights... It's a pride thing for us. We're not about to get punked."

Michael Conroy

It also helps the big man that Beilein surrounds him with four shooters. The Wolverines put on a clinic in the first half when they made five of their first six threes and had Tennessee's heads spinning.

Michigan shot 11-of-20 from deep on the night and is 25-of-48 in the last two games.

Once the Vols figured out they better get out to those shooters, Morgan was wide open for layups off pick-and-rolls.

"With our spacing on the floor, they didn't know who to help off of, who not to help off of, and it led to some easy baskets," Nik Stauskas said.

Note to those left in the tournament. Don't help off Morgan. And don't charge over him either. He's no Mitch McGary, but you know what? He's just as effective.

And so are the Wolverines, who are headed back to the Elite Eight for the second straight year.

One more hot shooting night, which is almost expected at this point, and the McGary-less, undersized Wolverines will be back in the Final Four. 


C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.