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Purdue basketball building momentum again

Boilermakers, Morton still unbeaten after winning prestigious Maui Invitational
Senior Purdue guard and Butler graduate Ethan Morton tries to get around Marquette forward Oso Ighodaro (13) during the Maui Invitational championship game in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The beat goes on for the Boilermakers.

And Butler graduate Ethan Morton continues to be a part of it.

The Purdue basketball program didn’t run away and hide after last year’s stunning upset to 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Boilermakers became just the second No. 1 seed to ever lose in the first round.

“We said at the time that loss would fuel us this year and it will,” Morton said. “That fuel is still in there. We just don’t need it right now. What’s important at this point is building our resume toward the latter part of the season.”

Purdue (6-0) won the recent Maui Invitational in Hawaii by defeating No. 11 Gonzaga (73-63), No. 10 Tennessee (71-67) and No. 4 Marquette (78-75) in successive days. The latter win was the tourney title game.

The Boilermakers became only the second NCAA men’s basketball team in the last 40 years to defeat three Top 15 teams in three straight days. Connecticut turned that trick March 10-12, 2011.

As Purdue keeps winning, Morton finds it more challenging to increase hiis minutes on the court.

“It’s hard to get more minutes out there because things have been going so well, changes don’t need to be made,” Morton said. “I’m still in the mix, still playing a role. It becomes more challenging each year as more and more young talent is being brought into the program.

“I’m happy we’re winning. I love being part of that. Of course, I’d love to play more. Everyone does. That doesn’t mean I’m going to pull for a teammate to play badly ... Winning comes first.

“If I didn’t work hard, continue to be ready when my name is called, I’d be disappointed in myself. This is the challenge I signed up for. I’m very proud to be a part of this team,” Morton added.

In his fourth year with the Boilermakers, Morton is averaging 10 minutes per game. He’s scored a total of eight points, grabbed two rebounds and dished out seven assists.

While that sounds like a diminished role, Morton is not called upon to be the player he was at Butler, when he amassed 2,198 points, 912 rebounds and 682 assists in being named the Pennsylvania Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

“Defense is an element I’ve worked on hard since high school,” Morton said. “That’s probably what I’m called on for the most here now.”

Butler boys basketball coach Matt Clement — who coached Morton in high school — credits Morton for adapting to his new role at Purdue.

“Ethan’s in a tough situation there,” Clement said. “Because Purdue’s been winning for so long, they keep bringing in top recruiting classes every year he’s been there. Yet through his work ethic and mental toughness, he continues to be in the rotation for the No. 1 ranked team in the country.

“Ethan’s always been a selfless player. Believe me, he wants to play more. But, mainly, he wants to win. That’s No. 1 with him.”

Morton is scheduled to graduate with a degree in finance in December. He has another year of basketball eligibility following this one.

And he’s never taken the winning for granted.

“The different atmospheres I’ve played in, the sold-out Mackey Arena (for home games), meeting so many great players, great coaches, great teams ... It’s been super cool,” he said.

Clement added that Morton’s “been part of Big Ten championships, tournament championships, early season tournament titles, NCAA Tournament ... he’s experienced a lot these last few years.”

Whenever Morton does leave Purdue, his basketball career will not be over.

“I want to play basketball for as long as I can,” he said. “My body’s not worn out or beaten up. I take care of my body still and it’s in great shape. I’ll look into playing overseas, see if something is out there for me. I feel like I can play for a number of years.

“When I’m done playing, I’ll get into coaching. I’ve acquired a lot of basketball knowledge I’d love to give back.”

Clement isn’t surprised Morton wants to keep playing.

“His best basketball is still in front of him. I’m confident of that,” the coach said.

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