EAST LANSING, Mich. — The biggest loss Indiana suffered Friday night may not have been the 85-57 blowout loss to Michigan State.
It was suffered with 2:42 remaining in the first half — when junior forward Juwan Morgan appeared to come down on his own foot, suffering an unevaluated ankle injury and not returning to the game. Morgan left the Breslin Center on crutches to board the team bus and return to Bloomington. IU head coach Archie Miller said Morgan will be evaluated when the Hoosiers return to campus and begin preparations for Monday’s home game vs. Maryland.
“It made it very difficult,” freshman forward Justin Smith said of losing Morgan. “Someone who plays both side of the ball very well, we lost some offense and some defense. Especially with the amount of big guys they have. We really missed him.”
While Morgan’s injury remains in speculation, the possibility of a severe injury could be destructive for the remainder of Indiana’s season. The Hoosiers have lost sophomore forward De’Ron Davis (torn ACL) for the season, altering Miller’s rotations to the tune of Collin Hartman, Freddie McSwain, as well as freshman forward Clifton Moore. Within that rotation, however, has remained Morgan — buoying the Hoosiers through an impressive 3-game winning streak with the steady hand of 15.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
It’s hard to say how Morgan’s absence affected the Hoosiers Friday night against Michigan State — a game in which the Spartans controlled essentially every category from start-to-finish. By the time Morgan suffered the ankle injury, the Hoosiers had already surrendered a 14-0 Spartan run, being outscored 18-4 in the paint en route to trailing, 42-23 at halftime.
“We lost track of our gameplan,” freshman forward Justin Smith said. “We were outrebounded and they got out on transition, that’s when they’re at their best. We didn’t slow that down and they took advantage of it.”
With or without Morgan in the second half, Indiana was lifeless against a revitalized Michigan State side that was determined on recovering from a rocky 3-game stretch that included a pair of losses to Michigan and Ohio State. The Spartans used their size accordingly, as 6-foot-7 sophomore forward Miles Bridges scored a game-high 22 points and 6-foot-8 forward Nick Ward bullied his way to 18 points and 13 rebounds.
The ultimate concern for Indiana is the dire possibility of losing Morgan’s most important characteristic; his consistency. Throughout the early season shooting woes of Robert Johnson, Josh Newkirk, and others, — Morgan has remained steady. In the Hoosiers’ 19 games this season, Morgan has tallied double-digit points in 13 of them.
Friday night against Michigan State, Indiana began a grueling 17-day stretch containing seven games. The Hoosiers will greet Maryland at home Monday, travel to Illinois next Wednesday, and then endure a savage 3-game stretch of Purdue, Ohio State, and Michigan State — a slate that pits IU as the undersized team once again.
“I thought tonight, especially when Juwan went out, we had a hard time executing and running good offense,” Miller said. “It became a stagnant halfcourt where you had Rob and Josh trying to make as many plays as they possibly could. That was tough on them.”
The severity of Morgan’s ankle injury will likely not be known until Monday’s game vs. Maryland. Fortunately for the Hoosiers, Indiana’s stalwart has been known to play through injury, as was the case with Morgan’s often dislocated shoulder last season. Speculation is dangerous, yet understood in the case of IU’s state of limited depth and everlasting fragility.