Morsell needed surgery to repair the fracture, but he received an optimistic timetable of only one to two weeks before he can return. Maryland played without the senior guard Monday at Indiana, again letting a game slip away in the second half when the Terrapins’ 10-point lead disappeared.
The Terps lost those two games thanks in part to the tremendous performances of the opposing teams’ big men: Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson (26 points) and Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis (22 points). Morsell isn’t often tasked with guarding elite post players, but his absence still left Maryland without his leadership and defensive intensity.
How much did that contribute to the defeat? “We'll never know,” Coach Mark Turgeon said after losing to the Hoosiers, adding: “But we had enough players. We've just got to compete a little bit more.”
Morsell’s injury came with the Terps (6-5, 1-4 Big Ten) in the midst of a grueling stretch of their schedule. After those back-to-back losses, Maryland will now face No. 5 Iowa at home, with the Hawkeyes (9-2, 3-1) visiting College Park on Thursday as the highest-ranked Big Ten team in this week’s Associated Press poll. They’re powered by Washington native and national player of the year candidate Luka Garza. Averaging 27.5 points per game, the second most in Division I, Garza poses the most difficult challenge yet for the Terps’ thin frontcourt.
By the time the game against Iowa tips off, Morsell will be six days removed from surgery, hovering around that date for his earliest possible return. Turgeon said Wednesday evening that he expects Morsell to play against Iowa but probably not start. Morsell, who will wear a face mask when he returns, shot some on his own Tuesday and practiced with the team Wednesday.
“He wanted to play in the game against Michigan,” Turgeon said. “He wanted to play the other night against Indiana. So I don’t think with the mask I’m going to be able to hold him back.”
Before Maryland traveled to Indiana, Turgeon said Morsell had only been watching practice from the sideline while he iced his still-swollen face and helped coach his teammates.
“We feel like he’s on the right track,” Turgeon said Sunday. “ … He’s our toughest kid, so we’ll see.”
Morsell dealt with a minor shoulder injury earlier this season that never kept him from playing, but Turgeon mentioned the issue at times when Morsell wasn’t performing at his best. That injury pales in comparison to a fracture that required surgery, but it offers a glimpse into how Morsell navigates a setback outside his control and how badly he will want to return to a team that needs him.
“I’m playing basketball, man,” Morsell said last month when asked about the shoulder issue. “At the end of the day, if I’m on the court, I’ve got a job to fulfill and I’ve got assignments to tend to regardless of what’s going on. So it doesn’t matter. Y’all don’t care. Whoever’s watching don’t care. I’ve still got to win games. So that’s all I’m worried about.”
Without Morsell making the trip to Bloomington, Ind., sophomore guard Hakim Hart started for the third time in his career. Hart has improved this season, and Turgeon has trusted him in critical moments. He is part of the lineup that has been one of Maryland’s best groups — junior guard Eric Ayala, junior guard Aaron Wiggins, Hart, Morsell and sophomore forward Donta Scott. That crew played together during the final seven minutes late last month against Purdue, when the Terps nearly orchestrated a comeback win. The same players played two stints of nearly five minutes apiece in the second half last week against Wisconsin when Maryland knocked off the Badgers, who were ranked sixth at the time.
Hart played a career-high 32 minutes against the Hoosiers, scoring 10 points. That was the first time he reached double figures against a conference opponent. Hart shot 3 for 8 from the field, making a pair of three-pointers.
A couple of times when Hart came out of the game, Maryland played with Ayala, Wiggins and senior Reese Mona as the three guards. Freshman James Graham III, previously a member of the 2021 recruiting class, also made his debut after enrolling early. Listed as a 6-foot-8 guard/forward, Graham should eventually have a role similar to that of Morsell and Hart. Graham had practiced for less than a week, but Morsell’s injury pushed him into action sooner than expected. Graham played four minutes against the Hoosiers, finishing with a missed three-pointer, one rebound and a turnover.
Despite missing Morsell, the team’s best defender, the Terps showed defensive improvement against Indiana, holding the Hoosiers to 37.3 percent shooting, including a 4-for-22 mark from three-point range. “Our offense let us down,” Turgeon said after the Indiana game, noting that in previous losses, Maryland’s inadequate defense was instead what doomed the Terps.
The past 60 minutes of Maryland basketball still have served as a reminder of everything that’s lost when a veteran can’t play. Morsell has been a regular starter since his freshman season. Others can fill his spot on the court, but making up for his all-encompassing role is more difficult.
“Darryl, he’s a tough kid,” junior forward Jairus Hamilton said. “He just brings so much energy to our team — offensively, defensively, just has a huge presence on the court. It’s been definitely a team contribution trying to pick up the energy and all that toughness that he brings daily.”
Morsell played 64 consecutive games before this injury, with his job growing as his career progressed. Without Morsell, Maryland scrambled to fill that void, and even though he might be limited Thursday night, the Terps will appreciate that they didn’t have to wait any longer for the return of their senior leader.