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Jesse Morgan makes strong case to return to starting lineup with big game

The last couple of weeks hadn’t exactly been favorable for Jesse Morgan.

Maria Uminski/Collegian

The Massachusetts men’s basketball shooting guard was suspended from the team’s Nov. 3 exhibition game and then didn’t start in his regular position in the starting lineup in the Minutemen’s season-opening victory over Harvard on Tuesday.

But a big reason why UMass came back and won on Tuesday was because of Morgan, who scored a game-high 19 points off the bench and added a career-high seven rebounds in 31 minutes.

The junior guard played instrumentally on both ends of the floor in the waning minutes of the game. The Minutemen trailed, 64-59, with one minute, 21 seconds remaining and were in serious trouble of losing before Morgan, whether he liked to admit or not, took over.

First, Morgan’s turnaround floater in the lane brought UMass back within three with 1:14 left. Then, on the next Crimson possession, he played exceptional defense on Harvard guard Wesley Saunders, ultimately forcing him into a five-second violation and giving the ball back to UMass.

On the ensuing possession, Morgan received the ball on the wing, then saw his defender back up a little and without hesitation, rose up and drained an NBA-length 3-pointer to tie the game at 64 with 39 seconds remaining.

“It wasn’t just to take over, it was just to play within the offense,” Morgan said. “I tried to do what the coach (wanted), the plays he ran, things like that, I was just trying to do whatever I had to do for my team. And it started with defense. I got the steal and the defensive pressure helped me get going, so that’s what I had to do.”

The case for Morgan to return back to the starting lineup seems reasonable considering Freddie Riley, who had a big game in the exhibition game against American International College, had a lackluster performance on Tuesday. The senior guard played 17 minutes, went 0-for-2 from the field, and picked up three fouls in the process.

Lalanne makes impact

Before Tuesday’s game, UMass coach Derek Kellogg said it would require a night of sleep to determine whether Maxie Esho or Cady Lalanne would start a center.

But if Lalanne’s performance on Tuesday is any indication, Kellogg won’t have to sleep on it anytime soon.

In 32 minutes, the sophomore center scored nine points, pulled down 13 rebounds – including five offensive boards – and recorded four blocks.

The 32 minutes Lalanne logged came as a bit of a surprise. After offseason foot surgery, he was only anticipated to play 20 to 22 minutes per game early on in the season, but Kellogg wasn’t afraid to put him out longer.

“He’ll play as many minutes as he can,” Kellogg said. “If he’s still playing hard at competing, I think he brings us a weapon that you just saw a little bit of. … If you see him get in a little better shape, I think he’s going to become a big-time player.”

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at shewitt@student.umass.edu and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.

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