Battered or not, Morgan and Indiana focus on the fight Hoosiers host Penn State in Big Ten rematch.
Indiana’s Juwan Morgan shrugs off any hint of injury drama. He’s been banged up before. He almost certainly will be again.
You deal with it as best you can
“It’s a matter of going out and fighting,” he said. “I don’t think about it at all.”
If the sophomore forward is not the explosive force he normally is entering tonight’s home game against Penn State because of an unspecified foot injury, he refuses to dwell on it.
“I’m feeling good. It’s not really tough because my teammates are behind me. I can’t let it get to my head. It’s about giving energy to the other guys and they’ll give it back to me.”
Morgan is part of a banged-up group of Hoosiers seeking not to just fight the good fight, but win it.
“We have to know the next man up has to be ready to play,” Morgan said. “Our freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore. We’re nine games away from being done in the Big Ten. We have to play like we’re old enough.”
Easy to say, not so easy to do given sophomore forward OG Anunoby is out for the season with an unspecified lower body injury that almost certainly is a torn ACL. Coach Tom Crean said Tuesday’s surgery was successful.
Crean also said that leading scorer James Blackmon, who is dealing with his own knee injury, is “unavailable” for Penn State. He’s sidelined indefinitely after getting hurt in last week’s loss at Michigan. He didn’t play in Sunday’s loss at Northwestern.
Blackmon, in case you’ve forgotten, hit the game-winning three-pointer to beat the Nittany Lions two weeks ago.
So freshmen Devonte Green and Curtis Jones will see more action. Walk-on Zach McRoberts will continue to play significant minutes, as will frontcourt players De’Ron Davis and Freddie McSwain.
“We have to know the next man up has to be ready to play,” Morgan said. “They weren’t recruited and signed here just to sit on the bench. They were brought here to play. They have to be ready any time something happens.”
Morgan understands that better than anyone. He dealt with a shoulder injury the final two months of the season that needed off-season surgery to fix. He’s battled back from the rehab and everything else.
“It’s tough,” Crean said. “He’s not the same right now. He has to improve his health. Once his health improves, his game will improve, his confidence will improve.
“He’s gone through a lot this year. He’s gone through a lot the last two years. We have to put him in situations that will make the game easier.”
Nothing comes easy for IU these days. Losses have mounted to the point that Indiana (14-8 overall, 4-5 in the Big Ten) is no longer a NCAA tourney lock even with victories over Kansas and North Carolina. The defense has struggled and the turnovers continue to surface at the worst possible time.
Even more troubling, the usually reliable offense has sputtered. The Hoosiers have scored 60 and 55 points in their last two games, their worst production of the season.
Yes, Hoosier Nation has noticed, which is part of the reason why Crean said he doesn’t ready anything about the team, and hopes his players do the same.
“The most important thing is to focus on what they can control – improvement and attitude.”
As far as the injuries, Crean said, “It creates opportunities for everybody else. That’s what we have to focus on and get ready for a very tough, aggressive Penn State team.”
Penn State (12-10, 4-5) is coming off a home win against Illinois that snapped a three-game losing streak started by the heartbreaker against IU.
The Nittany Lions are led by guard Shep Garner, who averages 12.4 points. Forward Mike Watkins averages 9.4 points and 8.0 rebounds.
The Hoosiers will focus on them, and more, but it starts by focusing on themselves.
“When you deal with the adversity of losing key players,” Crean said, “it forces to everybody up a level of responsibility. Some more than others. Whether they’re ready for it or not, is an individual determination based on where they’re at.
“It’s happening in real time. You got to make adjustments. It’s easy to (listen to all) the negative parts. (The players are) going through a lot. It’s not easy.
“We have young guys who are not even close to being ready to do what we’re asking them to do. We have older guys who aren’t ready to ratchet it up like that. But it’s real time. We have to play games. We have to improve.
“Our biggest thing is make sure we’re giving them real confidence, real truths. Don’t get focused on what ifs. This is where the process comes into play. Keep getting better.”
Or, as Davis put it, “We have to continue to push and grow as a unit.” <br>
<center> Up next </center><br>
Tip-off: Penn State at Indiana, 6:30 tonight
Radio: WGL, 1250-AM; 102.9-FM