Transfer Jesse Morgan should improve Temple at both ends


Transfer Jesse Morgan should improve Temple at both ends

Jesse Morgan knew choosing the spring semester to begin his Temple career meant he’d have to sit out 10 more games. That’s OK. Patience is something he’s learned in the last 22 months.

Morgan, a transfer from the University of Massachusetts who was granted one more semester of eligibility by the NCAA after Temple filed an appeal, hasn’t played since Jan. 10, 2013, when he injured his knee against Saint Louis with UMass.

So missing 10 more games won’t be an issue, he’ll just have to stay patient.

“I did it so far, I think I can do it a little longer,” Morgan said Thursday during Temple’s media day.

When Morgan does finally set foot on the court Dec. 18 in Delaware — the first game he’s eligible to play — he’ll be focused on improving Temple’s defense, which was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses last season.

“I want to lock down my defending,” Morgan said. “I think the more I can be defensive-minded, [it] can open up my offense and bring that defensive leadership to the team.”

Temple, which finished 9-22 and 4-14 in the American Athletic Conference last season, allowed 80 or more points in 14 games and conceded 78.1 points per game, 336th in the country. It also averaged 23.3 rebounds and lost its two leading rebounders, Anthony Lee and Dalton Pepper.

Defense has been the coaching staff’s main focus in the team’s practices thus far, Morgan said, and it’s his defending that is being noticed in practices.

“In practice every day, he’s leading the stats in defensive deflections and all that different kind of stuff,” senior point guard Will Cummings said. “He’s an aggressive guy, he comes out ready to play defense. We’re going to need him to do that throughout the season.”

For head coach Fran Dunphy, who is entering his ninth season at Temple, he can see Morgan's recognizing what the coaching staff has been emphasizing in practice. 

“He gets it, he understands,” Dunphy said. “He’s real active on the ball. He can do better rebounding, for example. We need our guards to rebound, too. Everybody’s got to contribute on the defensive end. It’s a team concept that he’s working his butt off to get there.”

Dunphy praised Morgan as a “terrific jumpshooter” with “great range.” At UMass, the 6-foot-5 guard was the team’s second-leading scorer at the time of his season-ending knee injury, averaging 13.4 points.

“One of the things he adds to what we do is if there are teams that we’re not going to be able to score very easily against,” Dunphy said, “you can run him out to about 25 feet, tell him to shoot about five threes, hopefully two of them go in and we’re in decent shape.”

Cummings, who was named to the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year watch list and averaged 16.8 points last season, is pleased to have Morgan in the backcourt with him.

“He’s a knockdown shooter, so that helps out a lot,” Cummings said. “Drive and kicks, all that different stuff, he’s a playmaker. Just having Jesse back there and being able to knock down shots, it helps out a lot.”

Morgan was able to practice with the team all last year, so he’s aware of what the Owls have to do to get back to the tournament. And he also believes going through that kind of season has made the team closer.

“A lot of guys matured,” the 23-year-old said. “A lot of guys worked harder, see that we have a good team. The losses last year built hunger through all the guys. Everybody’s stepping up, everybody’s competing. We’re looking out for each other now, we’re more of a team.”

Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

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Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Keyontae Johnson saw Florida’s big lead shrink to almost nothing in the final minute. He made sure his teammates didn’t let this one get away from the Gators.

Johnson had a career-high 22 points to lead the Gators to a 70-62 victory over Saint Joseph’s at the Charleston Classic, playing without ejected leading scorer Kerry Blackshear Jr. on Thursday. Not that it came easily as Florida (3-2) saw its 18-point lead cut to 64-62 in the final minute.

“We just communicated, told everyone to stay together,” Johnson said. “We stayed locked in.”

The focus proved the difference as Florida hit six foul shots down the stretch while Saint Joseph’s missed two shots and committed a pair of turnovers.

“Down the stretch, I thought we showed a tremendous toughness,” Florida coach Mike White said.

The Gators needed it with Blackshear missing almost all of the game. He played three minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. Then he was thrown out when he was battling underneath and his elbow looked like it hit Saint Joseph’s guard Taylor Funk. Blackshear, who came in averaging 14 points and 12 boards, was called for a flagrant two foul and sent off the court.

Blackshear’s departure seemed to energize the Hawks (2-3), who trailed 43-27 when the Florida star left the court. That’s when St. Joseph’s went on a 29-16 spurt to cut it to three points on Funk’s basket with six minutes left.

But Johnson followed with a basket and Andrew Nembhard made another to extend the lead.

St. Joseph’s had one last charge, slicing things to 64-62 on Ryan Daly’s layup in the final minute. The Hawks had several chances to tighten things, but could not. “We’re not going to go down easy,” Daly said.

Florida will take on Miami here Friday for a spot in the Charleston Classic finals.

The Hawks face Missouri State on Friday.

Johnson also had a game-high 12 rebounds. Nembhard added 16 points.

Florida took control quickly and appeared to make this a runaway as Noah Locke had two 3-pointers and Nembhard also hit one from behind the arc as the Gators went ahead 11-2 less than two minutes in and steadily built its lead.

St. Joseph’s had hit 34 first-half 3s combined its first four games. It made just one of its 14 long-range attempts this time as it fell behind.

Daly led the Hawks with 25 points.

Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

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Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

CONWAY, S.C. -- It’s been awhile since No. 17 Villanova shot this well from long range. Cole Swider has never scored like this.

Swider scored a career-high 26 points with six 3-pointers, and the Wildcats routed Middle Tennessee 98-69 on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

Collin Gillespie added 16 points and hit four 3s, Justin Moore finished with 15 points and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 11 rebounds to help Villanova (3-1) - which never trailed, led by 35 and shot 57% while winning its second straight following a 25-point loss at No. 10 Ohio State.

And yet, another number in the box score caught coach Jay Wright’s eye - Swider’s seven rebounds.

“He’s more than just a shooter,” Wright said.

And the Wildcats have plenty of those. They made 18 3s - one shy of the school record, and their most since they also had 18 in a victory over Kansas at the 2018 Final Four.

“They have elite size with great shooters,” Middle Tennessee coach Nick McDevitt said, “and any short close-out or decent close-out results in three points.”

Eleven of them came during a first-half barrage that pushed the lead well into the 20s. Swider hit his fifth 3 from the corner shortly before the buzzer to put the Wildcats up 53-28 at halftime.

Saddiq Bey then took the lead to 30 with a 3-pointer two minutes into the second half.

Donovan Sims scored 18 points and C.J. Jones had 16 for the Blue Raiders (3-2). Leading scorer Antonio Green, averaging 23.5 points going into the game, finished with four points on 1-of-7 shooting while dealing with foul trouble.

“They’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts, so they were switching just to never let him see space,” McDevitt said.