BOZICH | Indiana holds its breath over Juwan Morgan
By Rick Bozich
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) — For the Indiana basketball team the injury report has replaced the box score as the first item coach Archie Miller checks after a game. Miller can’t watch a scouting video until he looks at the X-rays.
Tim Garl has become as important as Romeo Langford to the Hoosiers future — and Langford made the go-ahead 10-foot floater as Indiana outlasted Northwestern, 68-66, in its opening Big Ten game at stuffed Simon Skjodt Medical Center Saturday.
Garl cannot make a floater. He’s been Indiana’s trainer since the early days of the Bob Knight Era. But he’s never had guys stacked up outside his training room the way the Hoosiers have taken numbers to see Garl this season.
Before the season the wise guys suggested Miller’s roster was so deep the coach would be scrambling to free enough playing time to keep 14 guys happy. Nobody even whispers that any more.
Indiana is 6-2, down nine spots in 2 weeks to No. 25 nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s computer rankings. Now the wise guys wonder if Miller can keep this battered group on course through the injuries and then have a relatively healthy squad by January or February.
But so far when somebody gets healthy, somebody goes down.
Saturday it wasn’t somebody. It was Juwan Morgan.
Indiana’s best scorer.
Indiana’s best rebounder.
Indiana’s most dependable player.
The Indiana player most likely to give Miller 40 excellent minutes every night.
That’s not hyperbole. Morgan did play a full 40 minutes against UC Davis.. With 17 points and a dozen rebounds, Morgan was on track for 39 minutes Saturday until he dropped to the floor near the scorer’s table with IU trailing, 61-58, and only 3 1/2 minutes to play.
A check of the video showed he took a bad step with his right leg and then appeared to bump the same leg against Northwestern’s Vic Law seconds later.
Morgan played through severe shoulder pain earlier in his career. He popped his shoulder back into place after it was dislocated several times during his sophomore season. He has volunteered to play 40.
Morgan could not play through the pain in his right lower leg Saturday, sitting as Garl tried to rub his shin with ice.
He did not return.
Now with a trip to Penn State Tuesday as well as a home game against Louisville next Saturday looming, Indiana basketball will be one extended held breath until Morgan’s status is updated.
“I don't know what happened to Juwan,” Miller said. “And I'm not sure what the status is. I haven't had a chance to see him or the docs or the trainers. Knock on wood, we'll hope for the best. I didn't see it happen. I'm not real sure.”
There will be no official status update on Morgan until he is evaluated later and receives treatment. My take, after conversations with three sources around the program, is Morgan will not miss extended time.
But around this Indiana team during this battered season …
Will Morgan and his 16 points and 8 rebounds per game be available, or will he take his spot next to Jerome Hunter (out indefinitely with leg injury), Race Thompson (missed six games with concussion), Devonte Green (back after missing four games with bruised thigh); Zach McRoberts (back after missing four games back spasms), De’Ron Davis (missed one game with sore foot) and Al Durham (missed one game hand injury) on Indiana’s injury list?
This can go two ways.
The injuries can drain this team of its depth, vitality and ability to build cohesion with combinations of players who have been unable to play together.
Or Miller’s team can survive this stretch as the healthy players meld and improve. Then if the coach gets everybody cleared and vibrant, Miller will have a group playing its best basketball when it matters.
“You always play that game, (the) 50/50 game of keeping guys fresh and avoiding tired legs,” Miller said. ”And you don't want to work them and what you lose is your edge, your execution, your competitiveness.
“And we've battled the ups and downs playing here and playing there. And at times we've had four or five guys not in practice. That's difficult for any team, let alone a team that's trying to kind of get better.
“But I would say the biggest struggle is trying to get that chemistry, that symmetry, both ends of the floor. But, most importantly, offensively right now, especially with some new guys in there who have never been in there before, whether that's a lineup of Romeo, (Evan) Fitzner and Rob (Phinisee), with two veteran guys.
“Those three guys don't know how to play together great. So we need to play more. I thought our last two practices leading into this game gave us a chance to play hard. Gave us a chance to be better on offense.”
I believe that I mentioned the score was Northwestern 61, Indiana 58 when Morgan left. The Hoosiers outscored the Wildcats 10-5 when it mattered — without their best player.
Over the final three minutes Langford made two difficult baskets. Justin Smith made a layup when the Hoosiers knifed through Northwestern’s full-court pressure. Smith made a free throw. Devonte Green made two. Phinisee made one.
Northwestern missed seven of its last nine shots, including a 35-footer by Ryan Taylor that bounded off the backboard and rim at the buzzer.
“This team's gotta keep working, hopefully, knock on wood, we can stay healthy like everybody wants to and keep growing,” Miller said. “But today was a big step. We got a good win. And I know each one of them will be hard moving forward.”
Especially as Miller and his players wait for the word on Juwan Morgan.
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