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February 19, 2012

Against Sullinger, Morgan plays best game of his career

The game was over, the fans, who stayed in their seats for a half an hour after the game to dance and celebrate, had shuffled back through the turnstiles. The handshakes had been shook, and more congratulatory well-wishes had been passed around the room than the Wolverines quite knew what to do with. There stood Stu Douglass, in the tunnel of the bright new Crisler Arena, with a beaming, flushed face, almost like that of a proud father, talking about what Jordan Morgan had meant for the Michigan basketball team in its thrilling 56-51 win over No. 6 Ohio State.

The Buckeyes brought with them a big man who needs no introduction, Jared Sullinger, one of the most respected centers in the country. And Morgan, the Wolverines' redshirt sophomore center with a penchant for early foul trouble, was set to meet him one-on-one.

Sullinger fell short of his season averages, 17.5 points a game and 9.2 rebounds. He was held to just four points and almost no looks at the basket in the opening 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, Morgan recorded the first double-double of his career, with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

"His mental toughness was as good as it's ever been for him," Douglass said, speaking slowly as if trying to find the right words. "He had those two fouls in a row trying to defend Sullinger in the post. That would have taken him out mentally [before]. He came back and played the same tough, aggressive defense in the last four minutes. Those fouls didn't even bother him - they weren't even in his mind. A lot of times, he'll let those mistakes effect him, and it will affect his play later on. But it didn't linger today.

"He could have just quit mentally like he has sometimes in tough situations with the fouls and things, and he didn't. He didn't let up. He didn't give up on himself, didn't sulk and let him affect him mentally. He's coming along. It's always those intense matchups, Sullinger-and-Jordan, Draymond-and-Jordan, that always get him going, but he'll be able to carry us in games that aren't quite like that, in the future."

Morgan had a few moments that could have taken him out of the game, mentally. The aforementioned fouls could have derailed him. A straight-look lay-in from directly under the net rolled out in the first half - but he just kept pressing on.

And his teammates couldn't throw enough praise his way, after the game.

"He played like a beast," Tim Hardaway, Jr. said. "He played like a man against the best big man in the country. And he took that to heart all week. All he heard was, 'Jared Sullinger, Jared Sullinger, Jared Sullinger,' and he wanted to come out here and show he could compete. He did a great job of that and took care of business."

Senior Zack Novak - echoing the sentiments of every Wolverine - said this was "without a doubt" the best game Morgan has had in a Maize and Blue uniform.

It wasn't just the points, and it wasn't just the rebounds, which Michigan sorely needed tonight after being outrebounded 38-18 in this season's first game against Ohio State.

It was the fire with which he played.

"I knew he was into it when he started yelling at me," Novak said. "He never does that. I was like, 'What the heck's going on?' I loved it. I think that's the most I've ever seen him want to win a game. It was huge, and it showed."

"I saw a different player tonight," added freshman Trey Burke. "Jordan is great for us, and he has good games a lot, but tonight, getting his first double-double against arguably the Player Of The Year in all of college basketball, goes to show you what he can do. It's all in his head - I know what he can do. You saw how he ran the floor tonight."

In fact, the only player who didn't lavish Morgan with such high compliments Saturday was Morgan himself.

What does it mean to record your first double-double against Sullinger?

"I guess it's pretty big, but what's more important is getting this win with my teammates. Experiencing this with people I consider my brothers," he said.

What does it mean to you to hear Zack Novak say this was your best game ever?

"Any time you get a compliment from a guy like that, you have to really appreciate it, because he plays his butt off every game. He's a great teammate," he said, deflecting the attention.

Do you think this was your best game?

"I think it was our best game."

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