Jesse Morgan has always been a streaky shooter for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team. And on Wednesday night, the junior guard worked his way into the hottest streak of his career as he dropped a career-high seven 3-pointers and 35 points en route to an 85-76 victory over Ohio.
Heading into Wednesday’s tilt, Morgan was fresh off his worst game of the young season, totaling three points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field against Elon on Saturday, but fell into a rhythm early and often against the Bobcats to hit 7-of-10 from beyond the arc. After the game, he described the rim as being “big like the ocean.”
“After a while, you just black out. The shots fall. I work on it time after time (and) I’m in the gym a lot so my shots are going to fall,” Morgan said. “Once I (make) one, I’m good.”
After trailing early, 18-6, to Ohio, the Minutemen went on a 23-1 run over the span of five and a half minutes, highlighted by 16 points from the hot hand of Morgan. He finished the first half with 24 points and shot 8-of-9 from the field after missing his first two attempts.
“I’ve seen him do that before and to see him do it in a college game was really kind of uplifting for the team, I think uplifting for the fans,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said of Morgan. “As a coach, when he’s raising up and you think it’s going in instead of praying that it goes in, it’s nice.”
On the other end of the court, Morgan had much of the responsibility of guarding Mid-American Conference Preseason Player of the Year, D.J. Cooper.
“Coach was talking about how good of a good player he is so I wanted to step up and take on the challenge and try to do my best to guard him,” Morgan said.
Cooper didn’t fail to impress, however, as he finished with 23 points, 10 assists and seven boards. Despite nearly allowing a triple double to the guard, who helped lead the Bobcats to last year’s NCAA Sweet Sixteen, Kellogg was happy with Morgan’s defensive performance.
“I know how good the kid Cooper is,” Kellogg said. “He still finished with 23 (points) and 10 (assists), and I thought Jesse did a great job on him.”
Cooper who was just three rebounds shy of a triple double is currently seventh in the NCAA with 7.4 assists per game.
Kellogg emphasized how important it was to capitalize when he was on the bench.
“It was important when he was out of the game that we could get a few baskets and I thought we could raise our intensity and pressure when he was out,” he said.
With Cooper on the bench for only four minutes over the course of the game, Morgan and the Minutemen took advantage of his two short absences, outscoring Ohio, 15-1, with 11 points from Morgan.
Chaz Williams sacrificed a 26-game double-digit scoring streak so he could feed the hot hands of Morgan. Morgan was on the receiving end of five of Williams’ eight assists, and as the team’s ball primary ball handler, Williams knew it was Morgan’s night.
“You gotta get the ball to him,” Williams said. “You can’t let plays go without him touching the ball, and that’s what I was out there trying to do.”
Morgan’s 35-point total surpassed his previous career-high of 25 points on March 3 against Rhode Island, and he was just three points shy of tying Marcus Camby’s school record for the most points scored in a game at the Mullins Center when Camby dropped 38 points against Dayton on Jan. 6, 1996.
Taylor C. Snow can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @taylorcsnow.