Coach Mark Turgeon hoped one of his players would get to the rim and score to force overtime. But the Golden Gophers guarded Anthony Cowan Jr. well, so the senior passed to sophomore Aaron Wiggins, who found Morsell.
“It's just crazy,” Morsell said after the game, trying to explain what it meant to be the one who made that shot. “I really can't even explain it.”
The entirety of Maryland’s rally is perhaps less surprising, even though the Terps faced a 17-point deficit with 43 seconds to go in the first half. The message among the players while playing from behind was simple: “We’ve been there before,” Morsell said.
Six times this season No. 9 Maryland (23-5, 13-4 Big Ten) has won after overcoming a double-digit deficit. The Terps had a nine-game winning streak that began Jan. 18, and that stretch featured two of those rallies, both on the road (at Northwestern and at Illinois). With their most recent win at Minnesota, the Terps are one win away from clinching at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title.
Maryland’s comeback against the Gophers was its biggest yet. The Terps hadn’t climbed out of a hole so deep since March 2004 against North Carolina State in the ACC tournament, according to Maryland Athletics. Maryland is one of two Division I teams in the last 20 years to come back from halftime deficits of at least 14 points three times in a season, joining Duquesne, which did so last season, according to Stats.
The Terps have also maneuvered out of holes not quite as large but with little time to go, including a seven-point deficit with 3:24 remaining at Michigan State and a six-point deficit with 1:25 remaining at Indiana.
After Maryland beat Minnesota, Turgeon said his players “just kept fighting and kept fighting,” which has become a frequent postgame assessment of his team this season. The significant deficits have become part of Maryland’s identity. So has the Terps’ way of responding in a confident and composed manner.
“We hate putting ourselves into a hole,” Wiggins said. “But I wouldn't have asked for any other teammates to be in those situations with. We find our way out of it.”
Here’s a look at the six times Maryland has overcome double-digit deficits:
At Minnesota, Feb. 26
Down 47-30 with 43 seconds left in the first half
The Terps had to navigate foul trouble that limited star forward Jalen Smith, who played only four minutes in the first half. But when he returned for all 20 minutes after the break, Smith powered Maryland to a 74-73 win, overcoming a 16-point halftime deficit. Smith finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, with all but two of his points coming in the final 20 minutes.
The Gophers surged ahead early after they made six of their first seven attempts from deep. Isaiah Ihnen, a 6-foot-9 freshman who had only made seven three-pointers on the season, hit three shots from behind the arc during that early stretch. But Maryland held Minnesota to 26 points in the second half. The Gophers missed the front end of a one-and-one twice in the final 24 seconds, opening the door for Morsell’s game-winner.
Illinois, Dec. 7
Down 40-25 with 19:02 to go in the second half
In Maryland’s first conference game, the Terps dug an early hole after making just 2 of 14 shots to start the game. About eight minutes in, the Illini had a 13-point lead.
Cowan scored 14 points in the second half to help the Terps close the gap, and the senior point guard hit the tying three-pointer with 19 seconds to go. Cowan forced a steal on the Illini’s ensuing possession and was fouled as he came up with the ball with two seconds left. He then hit the game-winning free throw. Turgeon called the 59-58 victory a “miracle win.”
At Northwestern, Jan. 21
Down 38-23 with 2:05 to go in the first half
Facing the last-place team in the Big Ten, Maryland had one of its worst starts to a game this season. Through nearly 10 minutes of play, the only Terps who made baskets were Serrel Smith Jr. and Ricky Lindo Jr., two sophomore bench players. Maryland made 6 of 25 shots in the first half.
When Maryland trailed 40-26 at the break, Turgeon said, he told his team: “We’re going to change our season at halftime, guys. We’re having a good year, but I want to make it a great year.”
Once the teams returned, Smith broke out for a career night, dominating the second half with 21 of his 25 points. He led the team’s charge back to the 77-66 victory and Maryland’s first road win of the season.
At Illinois, Feb. 7
Down 31-17 with 9:27 to go in the first half
The Terrapins took control of the top spot in the Big Ten standings with their 75-66 win inside a raucous State Farm Center. The Illini scored 29 points in the first 10 minutes while Maryland defense struggled. The Terps switched to a zone defense and some of the Illini’s best scorers ran into foul trouble, allowing Maryland to begin its climb back.
Five players scored in double figures for the Terps, led by Cowan with 20 points. Cowan hit a three-pointer with 2:34 to go that extended Maryland’s lead to nine and helped seal the win. For the second time this season, the Illini had to watch Maryland surge ahead from a significant deficit.
Rhode Island, Nov. 9
Down 24-12 with 8:18 to go in the first half
In their second game of the season, the Terps played with little poise early, committing 12 turnovers through 21 possessions. Maryland eventually settled down en route to a 73-55 win, but the Rams gave Maryland an early-season scare. The Terps didn’t take their first lead until 1:22 remained in the first half.
“They were ready to go, and we weren’t,” Turgeon said after the game.
Smith led the Terps with 19 points and had 11 rebounds and two blocks.
Harvard, Nov. 29
Down 23-12 with 6:51 to go in the first half
During the Orlando Invitational, Maryland let Harvard jump out to a quick lead as the Crimson scored the first nine points of the game. Harvard’s Bryce Aiken scored 30 points. Maryland had 11 turnovers in the first half.
Cowan scored 20 points in Maryland’s 80-73 win, and he sparked his team with 10 points during a 12-2 run midway through the second half.