In his first 26 games against Division I competition, Dwayne Morgan scored eight-plus points on two occasions. That figure is notable because in the past three games, the freshman forward has turned that trick three times.
UNLV lost two of those games, but still, it’s been Morgan’s best extended stretch of the season, by far. So is this Morgan finally turning the corner in better-late-than-never fashion? If so, he picked the right time, because the Rebels are going to need him from now on.
With Patrick McCaw (concussion) becoming the latest Rebel on the injured list, Morgan is one of just six scholarship players available for Saturday’s regular-season finale at San Jose State, and barring the unexpected return of Rashad Vaughn or Dantley Walker, this could be the roster that finishes the season for UNLV. So Morgan is going to get more minutes than he knows what to do with.
Dave Rice has already said that Morgan will work out at small forward and play a lot of the “3” position against San Jose State. If we were still dealing with the Dwayne Morgan of the first 26 games, that wouldn’t be a good thing. But the Dwayne Morgan of the past 10 days has given fans something to get excited about and may actually be able to handle the expanded role.
Before his breakout stretch, Morgan was averaging 4.0 points on 30.4-percent shooting. Those are the numbers of an 11th man, not a key contributor to a six-man rotation. But over the past three contests, Morgan has looked more comfortable on the court, patiently working the ball into the paint and taking open shots instead of forcing contested attempts. The results have been much better—11.3 points on 65.0 percent.
During that three-game stretch, UNLV has outscored its opponents by eight points with Morgan on the court—a huge step up from his season-long numbers. Over the first 26 games, Morgan sported a plus/minus rate of -2.08 per 40 minutes; In the past three contests, he’s at +5.82 per 40.
This version of Dwayne Morgan can definitely help the Rebels—if he can stay on the court. One of his biggest issues this season has been committing fouls. He’s picked up at least three personal fouls in 19 of 29 games, and constantly playing in foul trouble has kept his playing time artificially low, and more importantly, kept him from ever settling in or developing any kind of rhythm on the court.
His fouling issues popped up again against San Diego State, and it cost the Rebels. Morgan was UNLV’s best offensive player in the first half, scoring 10 points in 10 minutes on 3-of-4 shooting, but only played four minutes in the second half due to foul trouble. He picked up his fourth foul with 9:32 left to play and never saw the court again in a close game that the Rebels went on to lose.
Morgan’s aggressiveness and physicality on defense is welcomed, within reason. He’s got one regular-season game left to dial it in, and then it’s time for the Mountain West tournament. If Morgan can learn a quick lesson in staying on the court, his newfound offensive game would most certainly help the depleted Rebels as they try to extend their season.
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