Morgan looks to snap out of shooting slump in Philadelphia

By Stephen Hewitt

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team has gone through plenty of highs and lows through its 2011-12 season, but perhaps none more extreme than one of its best shooting threats in Jesse Morgan.

The sophomore guard is fourth on the team with nine points per game but has been far from consistent, especially recently in the Minutemen’s latest three-game stretch in which the team has gone 1-2 to fall into a tie for sixth place in the Atlantic 10.

Morgan has averaged 3.3 points in his last three games, shooting an uncharacteristic 16.7 percent on 4-for-24 shooting. None of his makes have been from 3-point territory – where he shoots at 34.8 percent for the season – as he has missed on all 11 of his attempts from long range over the stretch.

Most recently, he shot 11 percent on 1-for-9 shooting as part of a 25 percent team shooting effort in its blowout 76-43 loss at Dayton on Saturday night.

“I think he’s pressed a little bit offensively when his shot hasn’t gone in,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg.

It hasn’t been all lows for Morgan, though. He had one of his best shooting nights of the season last Nov. 25 at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas, torching Utah with five 3-pointers – all in the first half – to help the Minutemen grab their only win of the trip.

More recently, he had a breakout game against St. Bonaventure on Feb. 8 when he lit up the Mullins Center for a game-high 24 points on 6-for-7 shooting from 3-point distance to lead UMass to victory.

It’s clear that Morgan can get hot at any time and is usually a reliable outside shooting threat, which is why his recent struggles are as alarming as they are.

Although he went 1-for-6 in the Minutemen’s victory over Xavier last Tuesday, he was very instrumental on the defensive end of the floor. With the help of backup guard Freddie Riley, Morgan effectively shut down the Musketeers’ best scorer in Tu Holloway to 10 points on 2-for-11 shooting.

Kellogg said that may be one of the reasons why Morgan hasn’t been shooting the ball as good as he possibly can during the recent stretch.

“Defensively, we’ve put him on the other team’s best player and he’s exerted a lot of energy,” said Kellogg. “So we’re going to pull him back a little bit, tell him to continue to cover the other’s team best guy, but pull him back a little and have him not pick up so much full court.”

If there’s a silver lining or reason for optimism in tonight’s matchup at No. 23 Temple, it may be that Morgan has thrived this season when playing in his hometown of Philadelphia.

In his first return to his native city this season, Morgan scored 22 points on 6-for-13 shooting at La Salle on Jan. 8, although UMass ultimately lost the game, 82-75.

In his second visit back to the city of brotherly love on Feb. 11, Morgan played well again. He poured in 18 points on 7-for-16 shooting and also went 4-for-8 from long distance, but it wasn’t enough as the Minutemen fell to Saint Joseph’s, 73-62.

Kellogg is hoping that the third visit back to Philadelphia will be the charm for a UMass victory, and thinks it’s the perfect opportunity for Morgan to get back on track offensively.

“It’s his first real year of playing and we’re relying on him,” said Kellogg. “And that’s the time of year when guys usually in his situation kind of hit a little bit of a wall … and this would be right around the time that he would come back from not playing so well. He’s [been] in the gym early shooting in the last couple of days, and he wants to play well.”

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Hewitt.