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Morgan, forwards add new dimension to offense in win over Arkansas

By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 8, 2012

On Friday, Michigan coach John Beilein stressed the importance of countering Arkansas’ fast-paced attack — something Michigan struggled with in a two-point loss to the Razorbacks last season — with a good transition game of its own.

The third-ranked Wolverines proved their endurance in Tuesday’s win over Western Michigan, but on Saturday, they didn’t have to rely as much on transition as Beilein predicted. Instead, Michigan outmuscled Arkansas in the post to secure an 80-67 win.

Redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan scored six of the Wolverines’ first nine points and finished with his second career double-double — 12 points, 10 rebounds, both season-highs — to lead a complete all-around game by Michigan’s big men.

Freshman forward Mitch McGary and redshirt sophomore Jon Horford filled in nicely off the bench for Morgan, adding a combined six points, nine rebounds and four blocks.

Morgan, who had arguably his best game of the season on Saturday, had a similar performance against Arkansas last season, when he put up 16 points and six rebounds. His energy and physicality was unmatched by the Razorback bigs. Arkansas was outrebounded by Michigan, 42-26.

“(Jordan) was really big for us,” Beilein said. “This has got to be his mode of operation — a high-energy guy who gets the garbage buckets, defends the heck out of (his) man and everything comes his way. When he’s got that, we’re a much better team.”

The Wolverines didn’t plan to look inside for offensive production but the frontcourt provided more than half of Michigan’s offense. The Wolverines tallied 42 points in the paint even though Morgan took just nine shots and McGary six. Many of Michigan’s points came from put-backs.

Not typically a rebounding team, the Wolverines pulled down a season-high 18 offensive boards and scored 15 second-chance points. Morgan had six of the 18 offensive rebounds and was often found in position under the basket for an easy lay-in.

“With the ball screen offenses that everybody employs there’s pressure on the rim a lot of different ways and there’s rebounding angles,” Beilein said. “You’re going to have some muckers that are going to go get the loose ones. Mitch and Jon and Jordan make a huge difference in that. It’s rare for one of our teams to do that. ... You need guys to get in there and attack the rim and get offensive rebounds.”

Added Morgan: “I was just in position. I got the ball by the basket and my job is to finish, grab rebounds, and that’s what I did. I’m not looking to shoot 20 shots a game, I was just doing what my team needs.”

The most important part of the forwards’ game, though, was limiting the Razorbacks’ extra possessions. Beilein said Michigan's defensive rebounding slowed down Arkansas’ transition, saying the energy Morgan and McGary brought to Saturday’s game was integral in slowing down the Razorbacks’ fast-paced game plan.

And once Morgan or McGary pulled down the ball off the defensive glass, they could find sophomore guard Trey Burke or junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. open in the wings for a transition bucket of their own.

Michigan hasn’t had a significant post presence in past years and that was a hole that needed filling if Beilein wanted to have a complete team this season. With the addition of a taller McGary to complement a strong Morgan, the Michigan coach is happy with how the frontcourt is developing.

“Most of the big guys we’ve found there’s a steady progress until they really get it and then they’ll make a bigger jump,” Beilein said. “You’ve seen it with Jon, you’ve seen it with Jordan, and (now Mitch is) just making steady progress.”

Added McGary: “We haven’t had a post presence in the past in Beilein’s system. Last game we did pretty well. Jordan and I shot the ball well last game and this game. I think it’s going to help our team overall just because when we get in the post they’re going to double down on us and leave shots open for Tim and Trey.”