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Darryl Morsell’s parents attended his first 97 Maryland games. The pandemic ended the streak.

During Darryl Morsell's first three seasons at Maryland, his parents had attended every game. The pandemic has limited Carolyn and Duane Morsell to just three trips this season. (Family photo)

The Maryland fans and family members seated behind the bench had risen to their feet by the time the Terrapins began their final possession. This time a year ago, the Maryland men’s basketball team needed just a couple of more wins to secure the Big Ten regular season title, but the game at Minnesota had slipped away before a second-half turnaround positioned the Terps in search of a late winning basket.

Darryl Morsell, known for his defensive effort more than his shooting ability, launched a long three-pointer with the clock winding down. Some of the Maryland fans watched with their hands clasped under their chins. Morsell’s mother, Carolyn, didn’t know her son had the ball. She remained seated while the others stood. In tight games, she’s overwhelmed with nerves. So that night in Minneapolis, she said, “I was just sitting there trying to peek up at the screen and pray at the same time — peeking and praying.”

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When Morsell’s game-winner fell through the net with 1.9 seconds left and the celebratory leaps began, his mom stood and others pointed at her. “My son?!” she asked, realizing he had delivered the heroics. She missed the shot but got to experience the moment from inside the arena. As the players left the court, Morsell stopped to hug his mom before joining the jubilant locker room.

Until this season — when the pandemic closed most arenas to all fans, even family members — Morsell’s parents had never missed a game of their son’s career. Carolyn and Duane traveled from Baltimore to the snowy Big Ten towns. They experienced all of last year’s come-from-behind stunners, the demoralizing losses, every moment of joy and defeat. Of all the games Morsell’s parents have attended, he’s particularly glad they were there for that shot at Minnesota.

“A lot of the games on the road, I feel bad for them when they come because they have to go through so much in the airport and fly up one day, wake up ready to fly the next day,” Morsell said. “But I’m grateful for all of it.”

This season, Morsell’s parents have traveled only to the Clemson game in December and the trip to Minneapolis when the Terps knocked off a ranked opponent on the road for the third time. They will drive to Penn State for Friday’s game and return late that night. For all the others, they have watched from home, an unusual viewing spot after sitting in the stands for 97 straight games the previous three seasons, just as they had through Morsell’s childhood.

The family loves basketball, and Morsell said his parents will probably still want to attend Maryland games even after his college career ends. (Morsell is a senior, but he could stay another season because of the NCAA’s eligibility waiver.) As a kid, Morsell was usually either playing basketball or watching with his father. If he didn’t have a game, his dad would take him to Baltimore-area high school games. Duane sat between his two boys, Darryl and Terrell, trying to teach them the game.

When Morsell was 8 years old, his older brother collapsed during a scrimmage, and doctors discovered an abnormal valve in his heart. Terrell, 10, never regained consciousness, and he died about two weeks later. Morsell and his dad were in the gym that day. Carolyn was with her mother. She hadn’t missed one of Darryl’s games since then.

“AAU, high school, pickup games — we’ve always been there,” Morsell’s mom said.

During the recruiting process, Morsell’s dad told him not to worry about location. He would be at games regardless. His dad had retired, and Morsell remembers him saying he would move to wherever he was during the basketball season. Morsell said his mom also would have found a way to be there regularly. But Morsell chose to stay nearby and play for the Terps, so home games are just a quick drive from his parents’ Baltimore home.

Morsell calls himself a “mother’s boy.” She’s his go-to person when something is wrong — “always loved her, always looked after her,” he said. His dad is like a best friend, a person with whom he can talk about anything. They usually fly to Big Ten cities the day of the game, sometimes driving straight to the arena. Morsell looks for his parents in the stands before the game and acknowledges his dad with a subtle fist pump.

Before this season, Morsell’s mom and dad always greeted the players afterward, sometimes as the only team parents who made the trip. Morsell’s mom said she has that “motherly instinct” to be there for all the players.

“They're wonderful guys,” she said. “Whenever they see me, they come over, they give me a hug, no matter where it is. We've always tried to — when we're in the back, hanging out, waiting for them — when each of them come out, congratulate them either way, whether it's a win or loss.”

Morsell added: “She always wants to be the team mom, the team doctor, the team everything.”

When the Terrapins played Michigan on New Year’s Eve, Morsell’s parents watched the game with friends. Late in the first half, Morsell fell to the court and reached toward the side of his face, where the elbow of an opposing player left a visible indentation. Morsell’s mom worried. “But I just kept watching him on the screen,” she said. “He didn’t lose consciousness. There was no blood. So I was okay as long as I could see him still moving and being okay.”

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Morsell’s mom immediately texted a program staffer asking for updates. She talked to the team doctor moments later, and he explained the plan for the evening. Morsell headed to the hospital and learned he had fractured a bone in his face, which required surgery. Morsell’s mom met him there. That was the time it was hardest on Morsell’s parents not to be at a game.

Heading into the 2020-21 season, Maryland’s athletic department thought parents would be allowed at home games, but before the opener, that decision was reversed by new state guidelines. Only a few Big Ten schools have allowed spectators. Instead, Morsell’s mom texts her son before each game. She sends another message before the final buzzer so it’s already there when he checks his phone in the locker room.

As of now, the Penn State trip will be the last time this season parents can attend, so Morsell’s parents will make the three-hour drive to State College. Then their son will look for them before the game and maybe be able to see them at a distance afterward. For the rest of the season, they will watch from home. But when thinking ahead to this final guaranteed trip, Morsell’s mom simply said, “Let’s go up here and get this W.”

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