MILWAUKEE – Jordan Morgan wore a frown.
Michigan was near to taking the court against Texas, the only thing standing between the Wolverines and a second consecutive trip to the Sweet 16.
Wolverines assistant coach Bacari Alexander asked his center why he was making faces.
“I’m just thinking about Ridley,” Morgan said.
Perhaps Cameron Ridley, and frontcourts in Michigan’s direct NCAA tournament path, should have been thinking about Morgan a little more.
For two days, there had been talk of Michigan’s matchup against the Longhorns, and much of it centered on the matchup down low.
Would the 6-8, 250-pound Morgan be able to handle Texas’ size, particularly the 6-9, 285-pound Ridley?
The answer, Morgan showed, was yes.
The senior finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds — his second consecutive double-double and third of the season, matching Ridley’s physicality on the block and keeping the Longhorns from getting good touches in the paint, as second-seeded Michigan beat the seventh-seeded Longhorns 79-65.
“I kind of took this one a little bit personally,” Morgan said. Just because of everybody’s questions about how we were going to be able to handle something like that.”
From the tip, it looked as if it was going to be one of those nights the Wolverines have relied on all year.
Nik Stauskas took Michigan’s first possession down the court, nailed a three from the top of the key and pointed one finger at himself as if to claim his role. The next basket was his, too. The Big Ten’s Player of the Year has become an offensive wizard this season, leading the Wolverines in scoring and assists.
But Saturday was another reminder that he’s hardly Michigan’s only offensive option.
Coming into the game, the Wolverines (27-8) had managed just 1.02 points per possession or fewer in each of their past two games. Against Texas, Michigan showed how its become the third-most efficient offensive team in the nation this year, and one of the most fun to watch.
Four Michigan players scored 14 points or more, and together the Wolverines’ offense was almost unstoppable. Texas (24-11) had no answer for Michigan’s balanced attack, which netted 14 three-pointers, a school record for an NCAA tournament game.
At the heart of that effort was Morgan, who has taken new steps at the tail end of his career. For most of the season, his statistics haven’t been overwhelming, but he’s been efficient under the basket, and — more importantly — helped to lift a frontcourt that lost star center Mitch McGary before the start of the Big Ten slate.
This time last year, the big man was on the bench. The Wolverines plowed through VCU in the round of 32 without the big man, who had been struggling mightily.
“He didn’t play,” Michigan coach John Beilein recalled. “He couldn’t have been lower in his life. And he spent his summer dedicated to this … and we would not be in the position we are over these last four years but particularly this year without that man, Jordan Morgan, our captain.”
Now, he’s as dedicated as ever to topping his senior surge with experiences he missed last year.
Alexander said that Morgan prepares for his upcoming matchups more than most players, watching tapes on tapes of his counterpart.
When Saturday — and Ridley — rolled around, Morgan was ready.
It was all he could think about.
Pregame, Beilein was again discussing strategy for limiting Ridley. How would they keep him from getting rebounds? How would they keep him from having his way inside?
“Jordan just said, ‘I got him, Coach, don’t worry, I got him,’ ” Beilein said.