Jordan Morgan logs 17 minutes, and Michigan outscores Illinois by 25 with him on the floor
But no one had it tougher than Jordan Morgan.
Hampered by an ankle injury since the end of January, Morgan basically had to sit and watch as his team struggled to keep it together defensively through a rough five-game stretch.
"It hurt, you're watching your team in these tough situations that you've been a part of for so long and you want to contribute," Morgan said Sunday. "But the only way you can contribute is just to help guys up and coach from the bench.
"It's a different role, there was some adjusting to do. It's been frustrating."
Morgan was finally able to get rid of some frustration Sunday during a 71-58 win over Illinois, as his inspired play in the second half -- mostly on the defensive end -- seemed to be the spark Michigan has desperately been searching for over the past month.
Michigan coach John Beilein opted to start freshman Mitch McGary over Morgan, after the 6-foot-8 junior continued to labor through ankle issues in practice -- stemming from a severe sprain at Illinois in late January.
But once Morgan entered the game early in the second half, the pain seemed to go away, and Michigan took off.
With the Wolverines up three early in the second half, Morgan began to swing momentum by drawing a charge against Illinois' D.J. Richardson with 16:33 to go.
One possession later, after keeping the ball alive with an offensive rebound, Morgan found Glenn Robinson III in the post with a nifty behind-the-back pass that resulted in a high-level flush and a roar from the crowd.
Michigan went up five, and never really looked back.
Morgan had five of his six rebounds after halftime, and Illinois didn't grab a single offensive board over the final 20 minutes.
Michigan had Morgan on the floor for 17 minutes Sunday -- during that time, the Wolverines outscored Illinois 45-20.
Apparently, he's pretty important.
"We were very hopeful coming out of this (week off) we had that he had made some progress to get back to his old self," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "But he wasn't. In the last couple days of practice, there was a few minutes after we made the decision to go with Mitch, there was a few minutes (Saturday) where he looked sort of like himself.
"But he was basically on the scout team (all week). ... I said we were going to use him and see what he does, but right from the get-go, I knew he was better than he's been."
After the game, Morgan said he's not feeling any lingering pain from his ankle, and says the injury itself isn't bothering him any longer.
While Beilein still says Morgan's not 100 percent, the junior forward says right now, it's a matter of getting his strength and wind back after playing an average of just 4.8 minutes per game since Jan. 27.
"It's just about getting my strength back," Morgan said. "Just sitting out for that amount of time, all my muscles aren't what they were. It's about getting my strength back and getting a rhythm back. If you're not playing basketball for a couple weeks and then playing at half-capacity for a couple more weeks, it's sort of a process.
"But the pain's gone."
Beilein has insisted Morgan's absence and inability to go full-speed every day has hindered Michigan defensively, which in turn, was a big part of why the Wolverines struggled to stop anyone over the past month.
Michigan considers Morgan its defensive anchor -- as a communicator, a perimeter and interior player and a person who makes sure everyone is heading in the right direction.
With four games left to play, the Wolverines' anchor might have finally shaken off its rust.
"He reacts just a little bit quicker than the other bigs as to all the changing that goes on out there," Beilein said. "We were chasing them, we were doubling, we were hedging -- and coming back out of there, there has to be a guy that tells everyone where to go and knows where to go.
"He knows (all of) that. Is he faster than the other guys? I don't think so. Is he taller? Can he block shots? No. But he anticipates much better than the younger players do."
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