AMHERST, Mass.- Jesse Morgan went just 1-for-9 from the field, scoring only three points as UMass fought off pesky Elon in overtime last
Saturday afternoon. To be fair, his only field goal - even though it was a layup - was the one that put the Minutemen up for good in the extra session, but it wasn't exactly a confidence builder for a junior who wasn't even in the starting lineup in my first trip to the Mullins Center this season a month ago.
Or was it?
Wednesday night, UMass almost immediately fell behind by 12 points. Then Morgan hit a jumper. He hit a #superhoop. Then he hit another. And another. By the fourth consecutive, the Minutemen had gone from 12 down to 11 up, and Morgan had 22 points.
In a little over six minutes.
After the last #superhoop
in that stretch, Morgan put his palms face up to the roof
, whether it was an homage to Michael Jordan
or not, only he knows.
On an evening that my primary motivation for attending was to celebrate the squad that outlasted all the others in our Mid-majority world last season - Ohio - Morgan stole the show from D.J. Cooper and company, although it was far from easy, even after that amazing run that left a buzz through the Mullins Center for a few minutes after, no easy task in a half-full building.
As a part-time amateur sports psychologist, I wondered how in the hell that can happen? How could someone, playing with the same size basketball on the same sized court with the identical dimensions of the space to put said basketball, go from someone who missed almost every shot to someone who - almost literally - couldn't miss in a span of four days?
Morgan did miss eventually, of course, but he did finish with a career high 35 points on 12-of-18 shooting (7-of-10 on #superhoops). Did you ever - like me - wonder sometimes why shooting a basketball isn't more like archery
? I mean, I've been in the gym, had days where I couldn't miss. Then other days, nothing. Surely, the best basketball players in Division I basketball should be able to make something like 75 percent of #superhoops, no?
Obviously, there are many other factors at play, but just musing on a Wednesday night in Amherst as Morgan torched the defending MAC champions Bobcats into submission. And 35 is plenty enough to be a media hero for the evening.
I was slightly annoyed at the size of the crowd (announced near 4,000), even though school
wasn't in session. Didn't the people watch last March as Ohio took down Michigan and came oh so close to the Final 8 against North Carolina a week later?
Instead the buzz in the crowd I heard was things like, "This is going to be a tough game, Ohio is pretty good."
But things change quickly, even in Our Game. Ohio's run was orchestrated by John Groce (the Bobcats also won an NCAA game in 2010), who decided soon after it was time to go above the Red Line to Illinois
. He was replaced by Jim Christian, who knows the MAC from his time at Kent State (following Stan Heath), where he was very successful, but was mediocre at best at TCU, although he left voluntarily a job in the Big 12 to come back below the Red Line.
Ohio's coaching tree is a little dysfunctional anyway, the coach before Groce, Tim O'Shea, left Ohio to go to Bryant, which he coached for three seasons without even being eligible for the NCAA Tournament (the Bulldogs finally are this season).
The Bobcats still returned the majority of the team that went to the Sweet 16, led by Cooper, perhaps the hero of last season's postseason run. As I watched Cooper warm up, it occurred to me I really haven't seen much of his game. I think I watched some of the MAC title game last season, maybe some a couple of years ago. I saw the entire game when they beat Michigan, but it was hard to keep tabs on their second round game with South Florida, and then the game with North Carolina.
But that's about it. Below the Red Line (although ESPN3 helps), there are so many teams with so many players, it's hard for someone to be an "expert" on everyone. Stats can help, but they don't tell the whole story, either. For instance, Cooper finished this game with 23 points, 10 assists, and seven rebounds, which sounds like an enormous night. However, it was his needless technical foul (he threw the ball away from an official and then said something else to boot) early in the first half seemed to spark the Morgan-fueled run that put UMass ahead.
Cooper and Nick Kellogg did push the Bobcats all the way back to a 55-55 tie midway through the second half, but a couple of key Cooper turnovers and some Morgan heroics was all UMass needed. On a fantasy stat sheet, Cooper was awesome, but when you actually watched the game from start to finish, it was far from a stellar performance. Is that what Jay Bilas meant when he was talking about the eye test
Morgan didn't quite keep up his first-half pace (a Mullins Center record for points), but finished with a career-high 35. Morgan originally committed to Seton Hall, but - in what can only be classified as ironic these days - left because the Big East does not accept partial academic qualifiers, but the Atlantic-10 does. The coach that recruited him, Bobby Gonzalez, was gone soon afterward anyway (maybe because he couldn't get his big recruit?). Morgan was a contributor, but disappointingly (he was one of the top players in Philadelphia in his recruiting class) couldn't break the starting lineup at UMass until his recent hot streak.
Will he be able to keep up his hot shooting when Atlantic-10 play starts? The odds say probably not.
(Speaking of conference realignment, notice anything missing in this Mullins Center photo:)
Meanwhile, it was the fourth loss in five games for Ohio. The MAC doesn't seem much for finding a consistent national power like a Butler or a Gonzaga (although Kent State would seem to be closest with a decade straight of strong conference records), and perhaps that might be due to the lack of consistency in coaching tenures. We'll see if Ohio can get things turned around when it comes time for the conference campaign.
The whole reason this game was on the schedule had to do with conference realignment. UMass football recently joined the MAC- playing home games more than an hour away at Gillette Stadium - and part of the deal is the Minutemen will play four games against MAC teams in selected sports, including men's and women's basketball, who opened this doubleheader against Bowling Green.
None of that will help Jesse Morgan shoot a basketball straight for the rest of the season, however. Sometimes, Our Game can really be that simple.