Janay Morton now can brag that she never lost at Williams Arena as a collegiate. Nebraska defeated the host Gophers on New Year’s Eve.
“It feels really good [playing in Minnesota] because I haven’t been here in five years of playing college ball,” the smiling Brooklyn Park native told the MSR afterward. She hadn’t played in her home state during her time at Eastern Michigan, and Morton didn’t play a year ago when the Huskies came to town following her transfer from EMU to Nebraska.
The 5’-10” senior guard was a three-year starter at Eastern and scored over 1,300 points. She ranks among the school’s top 10 in career steals — Morton’s 96 steals in 2015-16 was third-best in school history and 18 more than any other Mid-American Conference player that season.
She made the league’s first-ever All-Defensive team and third-team all-MAC. She also made the MAC All-Freshman team in 2013-14.
Why then, after three successful seasons with such impressive individual stats, did Morton transfer from Eastern to Nebraska, from the MAC to the Big Ten, she was asked. “I loved it there and everything was good. But I felt for me personally I had to make another step, so that was leaving Eastern,” the young woman responded.
Then why Lincoln? “The coaching staff was incredible. I knew they’d take care of me well,” Morton said. “Academically it is really good and what I needed to be able to excel after school.” She expects to graduate this spring with a psychology degree and may look into playing overseas.
On the last afternoon of 2017, it was our first time watching Morton on the court. I didn’t see her play at Osseo, where she was a four-time all-conference performer, a 1,000-plus career scorer, and helped lead her school to a state runner-up finish in her junior year and the semifinals as a senior. Morton played volleyball as well.
Morton is Nebraska’s most experienced Division I player. During her mandatory sit-out year last season, she learned the Cornhuskers’ system as a result. “A lot of it was working on things I could work on, and keeping faith and confidence all the time,” she recalled. Morton put her on-court absence to good use, made the school’s Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll, and became a member of the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team.
However, this past summer Morton suffered a foot injury and underwent surgery in late September. This has, as a result, slowed her debut in her one and only season at Nebraska. “It’s been a struggle,” she admitted, “but every game it’s getting better.”
Against the Gophers, Morton finished with three points, a rebound and an assist in the five-point road win. “Other than the injury, everything has been going well,” she said in an upbeat tone.
Before she headed off to celebrate with family and friends who were present in the Barn on New Year’s Eve, Morton said with a beaming smile, “To finally get back home and get a W feels great.”
Second time back home for this former prep
For the second straight weekend, a former local prep hoopster played at the Barn as a visiting opponent. Sophomore guard Nia Hollie on Sunday led Michigan State with 14 points in a six-point loss to the Gophers.
It was the second time back home as a Spartan for Hollie, a Minneapolis native and Hopkins High School grad. She scored nine points last season in a road win over Minnesota.
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.