BEMIDJI -- Once No. 3 checked into the game for the Bemidji State men’s basketball team on Friday, BSU felt a little different.
“As soon as we stuck him in there, I felt like he gave us a big lift right away. A boost of energy, a boost of confidence,” BSU head coach Mike Boschee said of Ja Morgan, who missed two months due to injury. “He likes to talk a little bit, and he likes to share his emotions a little bit. You can see the confidence rise pretty quickly.”
After a 12-game absence, Morgan made his return from a broken hand during the Beavers’ 84-76 win over Concordia-St. Paul. And there were no butterflies for the senior point guard.
“It felt pretty natural coming into the game,” Morgan said. “(Assistant coach Mike) Iseman told me to play my game. Don’t try to do anything extra, just go out there and play hard. That’s what I did.”
Morgan came off the bench but still played 29 and 30 minutes in the weekend series. He averaged 12 points and 3.5 assists in the floor-general role that he had sorely missed.
“You appreciate it a lot,” Morgan said of not playing. “(With a) love of the game, it’s kind of hard to just watch and not be able to play. I just try to stay positive and work through it all.”
Morgan’s return comes just in time, too. Bemidji State (10-12, 7-11 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference) has four games left in the regular season, and BSU needs all hands on deck to position itself well for the conference tournament.
With Morgan back in the rotation, Boschee has perhaps his most valuable weapon at his disposal.
“He can be one of the better athletes out there at that position,” Boschee said. “He needs to be really locked in on the defensive end. And then offensively, just be who he is. He’s a really high-IQ kid that can find anybody anywhere on the court. He’s really special when he can knock down threes, but he’s really good at getting to the paint and finding people, making everybody else around him really good.”
A year ago, Morgan finished three assists shy of the single-season program record (183), and his injury robbed him of a chance to chase it down this year. But he has a different agenda when it comes to history.
“Still, the main goal is trying to get to the championship,” Morgan said. “… I missed most of the season. That’s tough. But (I’m) trying to finish the season off as strong as I can.”
The Beavers face U-Mary and Minot State in their last road trip of the regular season. Bemidji State leads the Marauders (11-13, 6-12 NSIC) by one game in the North Division ahead of Friday’s 7:30 p.m. tipoff, and in Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. tipoff, Minot State (10-14, 4-14 NSIC) will also try to derail BSU’s late-season push to catch fourth-place St. Cloud State.
There isn’t much room for error.
“Now that we’ve got most of our pieces back… it’s a matter of (whether) we can figure it out,” Boschee said. “… Can we figure it out, move forward and become the best team this team is capable of becoming here down the stretch? That’s what we’re striving for, that’s what we’re looking for, and hopefully we’ll be able to find it.”
And Morgan will do everything in his power to make up for lost time.
“Our confidence is still high. We can compete with the best,” Morgan said. “We lost some key players, and I feel like we still held our ground some games. We just didn’t finish them. I feel like we still have a good chance of winning the whole thing.”