Yet in the Terps’ second game of the season Friday afternoon against Navy, Morsell showed off a smooth jumper that improved in the offseason, and he was the team’s reliable scorer long before Maryland pulled ahead en route to a dominant 82-52 win at Xfinity Center.
“You think about where he was when he got here and where he is with his shot now — it’s pretty amazing,” Turgeon said of Morsell, who made all six of his shots on his way to 15 points. “He’s played so many minutes. He’s had such a great career. Obviously, he’s taken his offense to another level. He’s taken his leadership to another level.”
Four other Terps joined Morsell in double figures as the team shot 68.2 percent, the fifth-best mark in school history and its best since 1986.
With their top two scorers from a season ago having departed, the Terps (2-0) are leaning on new pieces and returners who have embraced expanded roles. Junior guard Eric Ayala matched Morsell with a team-high 15 points, and junior guard Aaron Wiggins added 14 thanks to a late outburst.
Senior forward Galin Smith, a graduate transfer from Alabama, notched a career-high 12 points. In 94 appearances for the Crimson Tide, he reached double figures on only seven occasions. Smith is “better than we thought when we signed him,” Turgeon said. “He just continues to get better.”
Navy doesn’t have a player taller than 6-foot-8, so Smith, at 6-9, had the size advantage. He showed improvement from the opener, a reason for optimism because the frontcourt is the Terps’ most glaring concern. Against Navy, Smith was a consistent presence in the post, making all six of his shots from the field.
“That was kind of our focus today: Get in the paint and make plays,” Morsell said. “Our first play, we came out, threw it right to Galin. It’s great playing with a big man and a big man that loves talking, a big man that plays hard.”
Maryland led the Midshipmen (1-1) by just seven at halftime, but once the Terps returned to the court, they overpowered the visitors with high-energy defense and offensive production from across the roster. Ayala hit two three-pointers early in the half, and Maryland cruised from there, extending its lead and limiting turnovers, which had plagued it before halftime.
“Going into the half, that was Coach Turgeon’s primary focus: He was telling us we’ve got to be a little bit more energized on defense,” Wiggins said. “... They were really disciplined and executing plays, but second half, Turgeon emphasized making sure that we were trying to get them a little bit out of it on our defensive end, and that really got us going.”
Wiggins, expected to be one of the team’s top scorers, had a quiet first half with no points on only two shots. He stayed involved, tallying three assists in the half and finishing with a career high of six. Wiggins had yet to score with 11:21 left, but he made a three-pointer and scored on the next two possessions for an 8-0 run of his own. He made three shots from three-point range, and the team shot 75 percent from the field (and 70 percent from beyond the arc) in the second half.
Sophomore guard Hakim Hart, who played sparingly last season, added a career-high 11 points off the bench, including a late three-pointer.
The Terps shot 60 percent in the first half, but turnovers prevented them from pulling far ahead. Maryland gave up the ball 10 times in the half after only doing so nine times in Wednesday’s season-opening win against Old Dominion, and an early three-pointer by Morsell was Maryland’s only successful shot from deep in the opening 20 minutes.
Neither team led by more than four points through nearly 15 minutes, but then Maryland generated a 10-0 run to grab a double-digit advantage. During that stretch, Maryland held Navy scoreless for more than five minutes and forced two turnovers, but the Midshipmen managed to trim their deficit a bit before heading to the locker room.
Maryland made mistakes early, and it took time for key contributors such as Ayala and Wiggins to find a groove. But the Terps guarded well throughout. Defense is what Turgeon said the team practices first and talks about first in meetings “because you’re going to have games when you’re a little bit out of it,” he said, “and we were a little bit out of it offensively in the first half.”
But once the Terps settled in and continued to hit shots at a stunning clip, they pushed far ahead. A game they were expected to win turned into a commanding march to victory.
“There’s definitely a lot of stuff we’ve got to work on,” Morsell said, “but I think we showed flashes of what we’re capable of, so we’re all confident.”
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