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February 24, 2013One quick peak at the box score from Michigan's 71-58 win over Illinois Sunday reveals just how important Jordan Morgan is to the success of the Wolverines - and how big his return from injury will be during the postseason push.
Morgan, a redshirt junior forward who suffered a nasty ankle injury a month ago, eased back into the lineup, playing just five minutes in the opening half of Sunday's game.
In that 20 minutes, the Fighting Illini bullied Michigan inside, collecting eight offensive rebounds - which led to 13 points - and made seven field goals in the paint.
After determining that he was good to go, Morgan played 12 crucial minutes in the second half. With Morgan on the floor more, Illinois' offensive game halted. The Fighting Illini didn't get a single offensive rebound and shot five-of-eight in the paint. Click here to see full box score.
"He reacts just a little quicker than the other bigs as to all the changing that goes on out there," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "This is a great ball screen team. We were chasing them, doubling, hedging, doing different things. And coming back out of there, there has to be a guy who is telling everyone where to go - and he knows that. Is he faster than the other guys? I don't think so. Is he taller? Does he block shots? No, but he anticipates much better than the younger players do."
During the game, former Michigan guard Zack Novak Tweeted that Morgan was "The General" of the Wolverines' defense. And that may be the perfect nickname for the big man.
Beilein and everyone else on the team lauded Morgan's knowledge of the defense and his ability to convey that knowledge to his teammates throughout the game.
"It's great to get J-Mo back on the court," freshman Caris LeVert said. "Coach calls him the minister of defense. When he gets back in there, great things happen, and he did a great job on the glass, also. J-Mo gives us great energy and toughness. He's a veteran."
In the last seven games - while Morgan was struggling through his injury and playing severely limited minutes if at all - the Wolverines were surrendering 29.1 points in the paint and 9.3 offensive rebounds per game.
With Morgan back in the lineup, the lane is closed off to opposing offenses.
"It was very big," junior Tim Hardaway, Jr. said. "He did a great job of being our backline defender out there and talking everybody through it. He was talking to our young guys about switches. It was great to have someone out there with me and Trey that is another vocal leader out there to help everyone out.
"You saw it in the second half. You saw us get back on defense and take the lead. It was great to see him out there."
"He's one of our captains and best defensive players," added sophomore Trey Burke. "When his defense is going, everyone is going. And with him, that translates over to offense. He allows us to get some big buckets."
Although Morgan has been making progress - however slowly - over the last month, the coaching staff wasn't sure he would be back in time for Sunday's game.
He was playing mostly with the scout team during practice last week, but proved himself enough to garner some minutes against the Illini.
"We had been very hopeful coming out of this minicamp we had where he had made some progress that he would be back to his old self. He wasn't," Beilein said. "He was not in the last couple days of practice. After we had made the decision to go with Mitch, there was a few minutes in the scrimmage yesterday where he looked like his old self. He was basically on the scout team, saying he's not there yet. But he played very well on the scout team, so I said we would use him for a few minutes and see what he could do. Right from the get-go, he was not at 100 percent, but he was better than he has been."
For Morgan, he was just happy to get back on the court.
"It felt good, being out there playing with my team, being out there with my guys," Morgan said. "Running up and down the floor, helping guys make shots. It just felt good to be out there doing well. Health-wise, I'm right there. I'm not at the point where it's about how much it hurts anymore. It's about getting my strength back up.
"I know my job, and I can help tell others what they need to do. That comes from experience. That's nothing against our younger players. It's just something that develops over time."
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