Jeremy Morgan’s defensive prowess providing boost for Northern Iowa

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — The idea of having Jeremy Morgan named the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year at season’s end was floated to Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson following Wednesday’s 55-39 stifling of Southern Illinois.

Jacobson wants that. Furthermore, he wants Morgan to want that.

“My guess is he’s going to think about some other things, but that’s the only thing he should think about.

Defending and rebounding,” Jacobson said. “He’s going to get opportunities to score. If he scores 18 like he did the other night, great, that’s fine. But his mindset should only be about that.”

The campaign certainly makes sense. Morgan has stood out as the best defender on the league’s best defensive team that allows just 56.3 points per game.

As a sophomore, he’s taken on the responsibility of trying to shut down the opposing team’s best player and, especially recently, has experienced a lot of success.

Trevor Ruszkowksi | USA TODAY Sports Images
Morgan is third on UNI with 9 blocks this season.

Anthony Beane’s stat line from the McLeod Center certainly makes that case. Beane was the MVC’s third-leading scorer with 17.9 points per game entering Wednesday. He ended up with one point on 0-for-10 shooting, Morgan tallied two steals and two blocks and the Saluki offense as a whole didn’t know which way was up.

“I’m always ready to guard whoever I can,” Morgan said. “It’s all about effort, I’m ready to guard whoever I need to to the best of my ability.”

Looking back, the versatile 6-foot-5 Morgan has impressed with tough assignments since league play began last week.

He contained Evansville’s D.J. Balentine, the third-leading scorer in the nation, in a game UNI certainly didn’t lose because of defense. Loyola Chicago star Milton Doyle scored just two points in the second half Sunday as the Panthers went on their way to a win.

Morgan gets some help, sure, but the role of defensive stopper No. 1 is his.

“We have to have at least one guy, tonight we had two or three, but you have to have at least one guy you can count on to go out there and do the job on the other team’s best guard,” said Jacobson. “I think Jeremy is starting to find that out for us.”

As Jacobson thought more, former Panther Lucas O’Rear came to mind. After O’Rear was named the league’s sixth man of the year his sophomore season, there was nothing he wanted more than to be the sixth man of the year after his junior season.

The point is, UNI’s 2010 championship team didn’t need O’Rear to fill the stat sheet. It needed someone to come off the bench and do a job.

Just like the Panthers’ deep 2015 roster doesn’t need someone to take a certain amount of shots.

“[O’Rear] didn’t say ‘Hey, I want to be all-conference this year — I was already sixth man, now I want to be all-conference.’ He knew the best thing for our team was to be sixth man of the year again. And he did it,” said Jacobson.

“For Jeremy, he should be thinking about being the best defender in this league and being on that all-defensive team.”

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