INDIANAPOLIS -- The best player at Bankers Life Fieldhouse at the Crossroads Classic was supposed to be Purdue's Carsen Edwards, a pick by many as the preseason national player of the year. The best player on No. 25 Indiana's team is supposed to be heralded freshman Romeo Langford.
On Saturday, the player that outshined them all was the Hoosiers' Juwan Morgan.
After Edwards scored 27 points in the Boilermakers' 88-80 loss to Notre Dame, Morgan topped that by leading No. 25 Indiana to a 71-68 win over Butler with a Crossroads Classic-record and a career-high 35 points on 12-of-14 shooting. He was 4-of-6 from 3-point range and a perfect 7-of-7 from the free-throw line. Morgan broke his own record of 34 points set last year in an 80-77 overtime win over Notre Dame. I guess this building brings out the best in him.
There is no question Langford is a star in the making, but Morgan is the rock that holds an otherwise young team together. He is the only senior starter in a rotation that includes two freshmen and two sophomores. The other freshman, Rob Phinisee, hit the game-winner.
Hoosiers coach Archie Miller has seen Morgan grow into his role as a leader for this young group. Miller says that he always brings the same attitude to work.
"Game day is no different than practice," Miller said. "Very few guys that can eliminate moodiness, the ability not to feel tired. For about two years straight, through about 150 practices, that's what I get to see every day."
Miller also feels that he has evolved into a more vocal leader.
"He's really an extension of the staff," Miller said. "If you can communicate something to him, he can get it communicated to the other guys. He's a smart, smart basketball player."
Miller said Morgan lifts the spirits of the younger players when things are not going well. Not going well pretty much describes the first 36 minutes of the game for Indiana (9-2) vs. Butler (7-3).
And lift their spirits, he did. Morgan dominated wire to wire, but especially in the early going, when he was really the only offensive threat for the Hoosiers. Langford finished with 13 points, but didn't score until there was just 5:38 left in the first half. Before that, Morgan had 14 of Indiana's first 21 points. By the time the half was over, Morgan became the 52nd player in Indiana history to score 1,000 career points. Morgan and Langford were a combined 18-of-25 from the floor while the rest of the Hoosiers were just 9-of-27.
Langford is so good that despite the roll Morgan was on vs. the Bulldogs, the final play was designed for him. Phinisee is the one who ended up with the shot -- one that will be remembered by Hoosier fans for a long time.
But Morgan is fine with others getting the attention.
"He's like the pitbull of the team," Morgan said about Phinisee "Starts with him. We go as he goes. That's how I think about it."
That may be true, but if Indiana is going to have the kind of season the Hoosiers expect, Morgan is going to have to be the one that leads the way.