BLOOMINGTON – Juwan Morgan played Sunday like a senior who doesn’t want to see Assembly Hall again.
Morgan scored 25 points, pulled in seven rebounds, hit his first 10 shots and for a brief stretch even outscored Rutgers by himself, in an all-too-comfortable 89-73 win on his senior day. He capped his final week as a Hoosier in style, with coach Archie Miller touting him for Big Ten Player of the Week.
Now, he’ll hope he’s leading Indiana to Chicago to solidify its NCAA tournament resume, and make good on his preseason promise to restore the Hoosiers to college basketball’s premier postseason event.
“Seniors do one of two things: They either run away because it’s too hard and it’s on them, or they just fight, and Juwan is a fighter,” Miller said. “He’s given us unbelievable toughness on the backboard these last four or five games where we need to rebound, and he’s given us presence this week in particular around the rim where he scored the ball.
“To me, I don’t know necessarily what anyone else in the league (has done), but I know he had one heck of a week for out basketball team.”
It might well turn out to be the defining week of Morgan’s career.
That would have seemed borderline absurd two weeks ago, when the Hoosiers were a game under .500 and limping back from Iowa after another Jordan Bohannon heartbreaker. Morgan scored 15 points in that game, an overtime loss, but after back-to-back defeats sealed by low-percentage 3-pointers, Indiana (17-14, 8-12 Big Ten) looked miles from Morgan’s promise of an NCAA tournament return this season.
Four wins — two over ranked opponents, then two more comfortably — later, and now anything seems possible.
“It not about the NCAA tournament right now,” Miller said Sunday. “There isn’t anybody putting you in until the thing is over. So, for us, can we get better? Can we be the same team we’ve been the last three weeks?”
Morgan has been central to the team Indiana has become.
So have injuries, and more specifically the fact that they’re finally mending. So have Rob Phinisee and Devonte Green, who together have cranked up the efficiency and turned down the turnovers. So have De’Ron Davis, Romeo Langford and a handful of others.
But for Indiana, it starts where it has for the last two years — running through No. 13 in the post.
“He’s a competitor,” redshirt senior guard Zach McRoberts said. “That’s in everything he does. I think that carries over to off the court, too. I think he wants to be the best in everything he does, and guys see that and it’s contagious. He’s been a great leader.”
Those intangibles have turned into something much more quantifiable in the last week.
After the upsets of Wisconsin and Michigan State, Indiana had the quality it needed to make a case for an NCAA tournament berth. What it didn’t have was quantity.