Morgan catches fire to lead UM to win

By Jackson Alexander

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

What a difference a year makes.

On Feb. 8, 2011, Jesse Morgan had played in just six of UMass’ 22 games and scored a total of 13 points all season.

On Feb. 8, 2012, Morgan led his team to a 76-67 win over St. Bonaventure and continued to cement himself as one of the team’s top scoring options.

The sophomore shooting guard went off for a career-high 24 points, with an electrifying performance that at one point evoked “Jesse Morgan!” chants from the UMass faithful.

He finished the game shooting 9-for-13 from the field and knocked down six 3-pointers, with each exhilarating the crowd more than the last.

“That was a big-time game for him,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “I think the first [shot] he took wasn’t a great shot, but when that went in he knocked down three or four more continuously after that.”

Morgan drained his first 3-pointer with just over six minutes remaining in the first half and with the Minuteman offense in disarray.

They had gone three minutes and 52 seconds without scoring until Morgan finally ended the drought and put his team back in the game.

His second trey was just as important as the first. With time winding down in the first half, Morgan bounced in a 3-point shot at the buzzer to cut the halftime deficit to three.

“Anytime a shot goes in at half that puts you within three, it’s always a momentum builder,” said Morgan.

He picked up right where he left off in the second half, drilling a long distance shot, just 30 seconds into the half.

After a 13-minute stretch devoid of Morgan 3-pointers, he once again picked an opportune time to strike.

The Minutemen, who had completely dominated the second half and led by as many as 12 points, saw their lead shrink to five with 8:09 left on the clock.

At the time, it appeared that the game would go down to the wire.

Instead, Morgan continued his barrage and buried three 3-pointers in the span of 1:40, extending the lead to 14.

“My teammates just did a good job finding me,” said Morgan. “I just tried to get in a rhythm and hit shots.”

Not only was Kellogg impressed by the offensive performance, he also credited Morgan for his defense in the game.

“What I really liked out of him, is he’s really pressuring the other team’s point guard on defense and taking him out of their offense,” said Kellogg.

His defensive prowess is an aspect of his game that Kellogg knew he could count on in the season and at times, he’s left him in games for that purpose alone.

“Defense can dictate the game,” said Morgan. “Coach asks me to put pressure on the ball and play defense.”

After Wednesday’s game, Morgan is averaging 9.4 points per game.

However, his performance in Atlantic 10-play has been particularly impressive.

During UMass’ 10 conference games, Morgan’s upped his scoring to 12.8 points per game, and shot an incredible 45 percent from the field and 3-point land.

He’s also gained Kellogg’s trust and averages the second most minutes in conference play.

“He’s playing better,” said Kellogg. “He’s only a sophomore, and technically last year was kind of a wash because of how he came in at the break.”

From week to week, different players are stepping up for the Minutemen. Early in the season, it was the heroics on Williams, last week it was Raphiael Putney’s emergence.

Last night, it was the shooting of Morgan.

Jackson Alexander can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Alexander.