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Morgan put-back dunk seals win, title

March 4, 2009

Alex Altman

Bloomington, Ind. — At times, he’s barely been able to breathe.

Other times, he’s felt so light-headed, his head has spun like a rotating tire.

For six weeks, junior forward Raymar Morgan has dealt with a litany of symptoms induced by walking pneumonia and mononucleosis. Not once has he complained.

Not when MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo would leave him in the game for so long he’d pant like a dog begging for a biscuit. Not when he was asked to play two minutes for an entire game, and as a result watch the statistics he worked to build go tumbling in a free fall.

Not even when he knew he was risking further health issues. Not a gripe. Not a grumble. Not a word.

So after his team’s 64-59 Big Ten Championship-clinching win over Indiana on Tuesday, Morgan’s teammates did the talking for him.

“It tells you what kind of person he is and the character that he has,” senior forward Marquise Gray said. “He’ll sacrifice things for the sake of the team. He’s shown that by playing sick, playing with injuries, sacrificing his numbers.

“He’s a big part of the reason we became Big Ten champs.”

Morgan finished with 14 points and seven rebounds for No. 8 MSU, which won its first outright championship in a decade. None of his points were bigger than his electrifying put-back dunk with 27.5 seconds left that gave the Spartans a four-point lead and helped stave off the Hoosiers.

Trailing by 12 with 9:10 left in the game, the Hoosiers had shaved
MSU’s lead of as much as 13 down to two points with 3:31 to go and were threatening to pull ahead. A raucous crowd sensed a comeback for the ages, and the Spartans were in a state of flummox.

After sophomore guard Durrell Summers’ 3-point attempt clanked off the iron, it looked like the Hoosiers would have ample time to tie the game or even take the lead. But like a comic-book hero, Morgan saved the day when he soared through the air, snatched the miss and vigorously stuffed the ball through the net.

“That dunk was crazy, I mean that dunk should be on Top 10 on ESPN,” said sophomore guard Kalin Lucas, who scored a team-high 15 points. “I’ve never seen Raymar get up like that.”

After the game, Morgan declined talking about his perseverance. Instead, he credited his teammates for finding him in positions where he was able to score.

“I just got to give a lot of thanks to them,” Morgan said. “I’m just happy we got the win so we can go home and celebrate a little bit.”

Morgan can deny his valor all he wants, but he’s been nothing short of an inspiration this season. A player who was callously labeled as too soft early in his career, he proved his mettle in the form of blood, sweat and tears all season long.

“He means so much,” senior guard Travis Walton said. “If he never went down, you’d be talking about him as the best player on the team, or voting for him for MVP of the league. He was having that type of a season.”

For MSU to add another trophy to the case this season, the Spartans know they’ll more heroics out of Morgan. MSU head coach Tom Izzo said Morgan is close to full-strength just in time.

“I think we can almost say that he’s back — back where he feels comfortable and confident,” Izzo said. “He had 22 minutes, probably could have got some more. I’m sure the next week, he’ll get more.”

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