After Minnesota’s Gabe Kalscheur missed the front end of a one-and-one, Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon just hoped his team would seek a quick two and play for overtime. Senior Anthony Cowan Jr., the Terps’ trusted scorer in late-game situations, couldn’t get a good look, so he passed to sophomore Aaron Wiggins, another strong shooter. But Wiggins instead found Morsell, who then hit what he called “the biggest game-winner I’ve ever made in my life.”
Jalen Smith, the sophomore who sparked Maryland’s second-half rally, played high school ball with Morsell in Baltimore, so after his longtime teammate hit the shot, Smith swung Morsell in the air on the other end of the court.
“Darryl’s a warrior,” Turgeon said. “Kid thinks he’s going to make every shot.”
The Terps had fallen into a deep hole early when Smith had to sit on the bench with foul trouble for 16 minutes during the first half. From there, he could only watch Maryland’s deficit against Minnesota balloon. He picked up two fouls in the opening four minutes, leaving Maryland dangerously thin in the frontcourt.
Without Smith, crucial to the Terrapins on both ends of the floor, Maryland slipped into 17-point hole in a hostile gym against a desperate team clinging to NCAA tournament hopes. Smith returned in the second half, and Maryland found life. The Terps chipped away at the deficit with contributions coming from just about everywhere. Finally, Morsell delivered the final, stunning salvo in the comeback.
Morsell, a junior guard who has become a much better three-point shooter since he arrived in College Park, has made 14 of his 40 attempts from deep this season. But he is certainly not the Terps’ go-to shooter with the game on the line.
“I knew if he was going to shoot it, he felt like it was going in,” Wiggins said. “... I knew there was no chance he was going to miss it if he took it that deep especially. That was a deep shot. That thing was money. I turned around and I just saw him on the other end of the court with Stix holding him like a baby.”
The Golden Gophers’ final desperation three-pointer was off the mark, leaving Williams Arena in stunned silence. No. 9 Maryland (23-5, 13-4 Big Ten), coming off a loss at Ohio State, survived its significant foul trouble and is now one win away from earning at least a share of the Big Ten regular season crown.
Smith’s two early fouls had forced him to become a spectator through much of the first half. But with Maryland trailing by double figures, Turgeon brought his standout sophomore back with about four minutes left before halftime. But 22 seconds later, Smith stood on the court in shock after getting whistled for a third foul.
Smith’s foul trouble only magnified the depth concerns in Maryland’s frontcourt. Daniel Oturu, Minnesota’s star forward, took advantage, scoring 28 points, including 15 in the first half.
But Smith provided a counter in the second half, playing its entirety and finishing with 16 points and 12 rebounds — and all but two of those points came in the final 20 minutes.
“He had to be assertive for us to win,” Morsell said. “He definitely asserted himself and pretty much dominated the second half.”
Maryland’s comeback, though, included key baskets from a handful of the team’s top players. The Terps trailed by eight with two minutes to go, but Wiggins hit a three to trim Minnesota’s lead.
With 24 seconds to go and Minnesota ahead by four, Marcus Carr missed the front end of a one-and-one for the Golden Gophers, leading to Smith’s second-chance dunk with 14 seconds remaining. Kalscheur then missed another front end of a one-and-one for Minnesota, and Morsell finally capped the comeback when Wiggins found him beyond the arc with the clock winding down.
The Terps trailed 47-31 at intermission but cut Minnesota’s lead to nine points with 11:14 to go, the first time the margin had reached single digits in nearly 15 minutes of play. Maryland has climbed back from deficits numerous times this season, including on the road in Big Ten play, and was forced to do so yet again against the Golden Gophers (13-14, 7-10).
“It was one of those nights where nothing seemed to be going right for us,” Turgeon said. “I didn’t know if we were ever going to get over the hump. But we’ve got a team of fighters. They just kept fighting and kept fighting. And in the end, we got fortunate.”
The Terps forced two turnovers in just over a minute, both of which led to dunks in transition — first from Morsell and then from Wiggins with 5:28 to go. By then, the Golden Gophers led by only four, but they continued to find answers as Maryland kept trying to inch closer.
Turgeon complained publicly about the officiating in Maryland’s loss Sunday at Ohio State, both in his postgame news conference that night and in recent days. But against Minnesota, the Terps again fell into a hole marked by similar woes.
Turgeon received a technical foul early against Minnesota, just after Smith picked up his second foul with 16:02 left in the first half. Cowan, who set a Maryland record with his 127th straight start, was also called for a technical during a first half that featured few positives for the Terps. Cowan (10 points) didn’t have his best night, shooting 2 for 15 from the field and missing all eight attempts from three-point range, but Maryland found a boost from others. Cowan was ultimately joined by four teammates in double figures — Smith, Wiggins (16), Morsell (13) and freshman forward Donta Scott (11).
“We struggled the whole night,” Morsell said. “All our shots went in and out. Anthony struggled. Jalen got in foul trouble. We just kept fighting. Everybody fought. In the locker room at halftime, we said we’ve been there before.”
Minnesota jumped ahead early with a double-digit lead about four minutes into the game, and the Golden Gophers hit five of their first six attempts from deep. Maryland’s issues worsened when Smith picked up his quick fouls.
Smith’s absence left the frontcourt thin for most of the half, with freshman Chol Marial, redshirt junior Joshua Tomaic and sophomore Ricky Lindo Jr. all stepping in to help fill the void. Those players have been relied upon sparingly this season. Marial, the first player to enter the game in Smith’s place, had averaged 5.4 minutes in his previous 11 appearances, but he had played well during his 10 minutes Sunday at Ohio State. Tomaic received his third foul just before the break, further dwindling Maryland’s options. Turgeon also turned to a four-guard lineup at times, with Scott as the only forward on the floor.
In those circumstances, Maryland fell into a huge hole. But Smith, after having nothing to offer in the first half, led the comeback in the second half. Morsell capped the night with perhaps the most memorable moment in his Maryland career. And now their team is just one win away from earning at least a share of the conference title, something that hasn’t been done at Maryland since 2010.