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At Northern Iowa, it’s time for captain Jeremy Morgan to shine

UNI’s hopes are tied to Jeremy Morgan

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-UNI vs Texas A&M Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

After years of playing the supportive role at Northern Iowa, the upcoming season will be ‘Captain Morgan’ time for Panthers senior Jeremy Morgan.

He has played just about every role a cast member can perform, and has now been cast as the leading man for this year’s edition of Panther basketball.

“He’s done exactly what he’s needed to do for our program,” UNI head coach Ben Jacobson said in a recent radio interview. “Now he has the opportunity to move into a different role. It’s a role held by Seth Tuttle and last year’s seniors.”

The Coralville, Iowa native arrived in Cedar Falls three seasons ago with solid expectations and has had a good career under Jacobson. His freshman season showed signs of his ability to contribute as he averaged six points and 2.7 rebounds and earned playing time in legitimate circumstances. While the Panthers’ 16-15 record was the worst in Jacobson’s 10-year career at the Missouri Valley school, there were valuable lessons learned.

2014-15 was a banner year for UNI, and revealed more of what Morgan could do. The Panthers went 31-4, including a first-round NCAA Tournament victory over Wyoming. Morgan’s sophomore season found him in a starting position as he became one of the best defenders in the league. The Panthers finished second in the conference, rose to 10th in the national polls and won the MVC Tournament. While Seth Tuttle was winning player of the year awards, Morgan was earning respect.

Northern Iowa put together another solid season last year. Wins over nationally prominent North Carolina, Wichita State (twice), Iowa State and Texas were huge as ‘Jake the Giant Killer’ continued to prove his teams can compete with the upper echelon of college basketball.

The biggest stages were never too big for Morgan. While he was still deferring to seniors Wes Washpun, Matt Bohannon and Paul Jesperson, the 6’5 wing produced some big time moments and contributions. He finished the season as the team’s third-leading scorer (11.3 ppg) and leading rebounder (5.3 rpg).

He saved his best work for tournament time. Morgan was an all-tournament selection at the MVC Tournament, while contributing 14 points in the quarterfinal and 18 in the championship game.

‘Captain Morgan’ was just getting started. In two epic NCAA Tournament battles, Morgan was in rare form. In an opening-round victory over Texas, he netted 16 points and in the double-overtime loss to Texas A&M, he produced in an otherworldly fashion. As Washpun and Jesperson fouled out and Bohannon played on an injured an ankle, Morgan singlehandedly kept the Panthers in the game.

Morgan finished with 36 points and 12 rebounds while playing 49 of the 50 minutes and connecting on 12 of 14 pressure-packed free throw attempts.

Now Jacobson and others have high expectations. Lindy’s and Athlon’s preseason magazines tout him as the early favorite to win the conference’s player of the year award. At UNI’s recent media day press conference, Jacobson said the faithful soldier now must command the troops.

“He knows he’s going to be counted on to do more,” Jacobson said. “What he’s done defensively (named to the Valley’s all-defense team), how he’s impacted the basketball game in all areas, was very well documented. His offense has been limited (by the presence of former senior class members). Now we need him to score more, but that doesn’t mean we need him to do less of the other things. He just has to do more.”

Jacobson says Morgan is ready.

“We’re very proud of what he has done on the floor,” Jacobson said. “But more proud of what he’s done in terms of growing and changing and developing into the kind of leader that he is today.”

A pair of emerging junior forwards, Clint Carlson and Bennett Koch will lighten the load, but for UNI to succeed in big ways this season Morgan has to captain the ship.

Go to kxel.com for a full and uncut audio of the UNI media day.