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Jesse Morgan takes over in win for UMass men’s hoop

Jesse Morgan, right, seen here playing against Providence on Nov. 15, scored 35 points to lead the University of Massachusetts over Ohio 85-76 Wednesday at the Mullins Center. (AP Photo)

Jesse Morgan, right, seen here playing against Providence on Nov. 15, scored 35 points to lead the University of Massachusetts over Ohio 85-76 Wednesday at the Mullins Center. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

The University of Massachusetts junior guard showed no signs of a recent shooting slump as he scored 24 in the first half and 35 in the game to lead the Minutemen over Ohio 85-76 before 3,821 fans.

“It was real fun,” said Morgan, who scored the most points by any Atlantic 10 player this season. “I’ve got to give it to my teammates and coach. They put me in the right positions and I did what I’m supposed to do.

“It was a fun game and I’m glad we got the win,” he added. “I just got the confidence after a while. I’m just happy my shots fell.”

UMass was down 18-6 early when Morgan took over. He hit a layup and one of two free throws to start the run and then knocked down a 3-pointer. Morgan had shot 1-for-9 Saturday against Elon and 11-for-38 over the previous three games. But those shooting woes were a distant memory once the first three fell.

His confidence was visible from there. As the shots kept going in, Morgan could not suppress a smile.

“After a while you just black out. The shots fall. I work on it time after time and get in the gym a lot so my shots are going to fall,” Morgan said. “Once I (make) one, I’m good.”

Morgan scored 16 points in a 23-1 run by the Minutemen that wiped out the early deficit.

“You gotta get the ball to him,” said UMass junior point guard Chaz Williams, who had nine points, eight assists and five turnovers. “Once I saw him hit, there was no more going away from Jesse. We just had to keep getting him the ball.”

UMass coach Derek Kellogg saw some of those high school and AAU games that earned Morgan his nickname and knew he had it in him.

“It’s huge. I’ve seen him do that before and to see him do it now in a college game was really kind of uplifting for the team, I think uplifting for the fans,” Kellogg said. “As a coach, when he’s raising up and you think it’s going in instead of kind of praying that it goes in, it’s nice.”

UMass led 48-40 at halftime, but the Bobcats quickly chipped away in the second half as a 3-pointer by D.J. Cooper tied the game at 53-53 with 15 minutes, 10 seconds left.

But Morgan attacked again. He made three more 3s in a 13-2 run that gave the Minutemen a 66-55 lead with 12:02 left. Ohio (7-4) never got closer than six again as UMass (6-3) sealed a victory for the first time this season before the final minute of the game.

“It actually feels good that we actually won by more than two points or in overtime,” Kellogg said. “Maybe we’re growing and getting better as a team.”

Morgan delivered offense despite spending most of the game guarding Cooper, who had 23 points and 10 assists. But Morgan made the Bobcats’ leading scorer work for his numbers.

“Defense gets me going,” Morgan said. “I play good defense and my offense is going to come. Coach tells me that all the time. So I just did what I had to do and played defense.”

Cady Lalanne added 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Minutemen, who will host East Carolina at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Kellogg said he is glad his team will be right back on the court.

“I think we needed this, where there’s not as much practice time,” Kellogg said. “The schedule kind of set up a little bit weird for us this year, so it’s nice that we have another game on Saturday after we played pretty good tonight.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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