Screen shot: Morse finding his groove in complex backcourt role

YOUNGSTOWN — Cameron Morse entered the film room, a couple of media members waiting for the Horizon League Player of the Week to speak.

The Youngstown State senior men’s basketball guard sat down and pulled the microphone toward himself as reporters clicked their recorders, cameras were focused on him and a pair of studio lights shone at 45-degree angles, facing the prolific scorer.

Spotlights have been on Morse for quite a while, ever since he started off his sophomore year with 20-plus scoring performances. The two-time, Horizon League first-team selection is the focal point of most of YSU’s opponents.

They’ve seen how he’s unconsciously buried more than 40 on opponents. The quick jump shot, coming off a screen, catching the defense off guard. That’s Morse’s game.

Silence. That’s the pervading tone of Morse this season. None of those gargantuan-like numbers have appeared. He doesn’t have others playing cloak and dagger, giving the senior enough cover to sink another long-range jumper. Not this year.

Morse has to be the floor general. He has to create his own shots, give some assists. The potency seemed to be all but gone, about 10 points off his average.

Then, he averaged 27 points the past two games to win league honors for the second time this season. He’s getting back to where he once was, even though his point man he’s had alongside for the past two seasons is following him, just a couple of clicks behind on crutches.

Francisco Santiago tore his ACL during a summer league game. His unbridled passion and furious movements were gone. He tried to make a comeback, but that cumbersome black brace and the nagging knee wouldn’t allow the Cleveland native to be the hyper-intensive player which helped Morse become one of the Horizon League’s most-feared players.

Now, Morse has new teammates. There’s not that familiar face in the backcourt. Teams are loading up and denying Morse the ball. Who knows how many shots he’ll get during a game?

“It’s a big difference between being a point guard and playing the point-guard position,” Santiago said.

Santiago, proudly wearing his shiny dominant blue Cleveland Indians jacket, hobbles in behind Morse. He sees Morse, who has been asked to play a dual role as point guard, but still be the team’s top scorer with a shooting-guard mentality.

Morse knows the magnitude of the challenge, but realizes he must get it done at all costs.

That means taking some of Santiago’s advice. He persuaded Morse to get an ice bath, something the Flint, Mich., native saw as strange. It worked. He gave Santiago 80 percent of his recent success.

“Another 20 percent, I’m going to give to me,” Morse said.

Santiago let out a quick, bellowing laugh in the background.

Someone offered Santiago a wooden folding chair on the level ground when he entered the film room. He waved it off, instead he forced himself up a stair or two to a theater seat as an onlooker of the weekly news conference. It’s nothing compared to the physical therapy he endures each week, pushing his body after the surgery he had almost a month ago — eventually getting that knee back to a sense of normalcy.

He’s pushing Morse to be that player he was the previous two seasons, as Santiago is more of a coach than a teammate these days — seeing what his friend and teammate needs to do to improve his game.

The two have been breaking down game film, studying how to increase his presence on the floor.

The conclusion — Morse needs to be more aggressive, find his shot and sink it.

“I know it’s tough, but everything revolves around you,” Santiago said. “The team goes as you go. We can’t afford you to not take double-digit shots.

“We’re comfortable him shooting us out the game if that’s the case. That’s what we need. He’s going to make the right decision. He’s going to make the right pass.”

Santiago could have a sixth-year of eligibility, if the NCAA grants him a hardship waiver. That won’t be determined until after the end of the season.

Morse doesn’t have an extra year. All he has is here and now.

That’s four regular-season games and one guaranteed Horizon League Tournament game in Detroit. It was there, at the former Joe Louis Arena, where Morse led the Penguins to an upset of top-seeded Oakland in March of 2017. His pass, as multiple players collapsed on him, to Jorden Kaufman for the last-second game winner went viral that night and into the next day.

Tonight, YSU hosts the Golden Grizzlies, a team which dismantled the Penguins a month ago at the O’rena in Rochester Hills, Mich.

Oakland (16-10, 8-5 Horizon League) has a Horizon League Player of the Year candidate in Kendrick Nunn and the league’s second-leading scorer in Jalen Hayes. Martez Walker ranks in the top 10 in scoring.

The Golden Grizzlies have a potent up-tempo offense, but YSU (7-20, 5-9) has a prolific scorer.

“We played Oakland three times last year,” said Santiago, whose team hosts the Golden Grizzlies tonight at 7 p.m. “The two times we didn’t win, (Morse) didn’t play well. The one time we won, he played phenomenal.

“Again, it comes back to his shoulders. He’s going to get the credit when we win, and it’s going to be his fault when we lose.”

It’s the weight Morse carries has being a marked man in the Horizon League.