The play happened just in front of the Scarlet Knights’ athletic trainer, who quickly began to usher Morsell toward the locker room as an official whistled for a stoppage. Morsell’s right shoulder sunk below the height of his left one, and he grimaced while walking away from the court. Coach Mark Turgeon said after the game that Morsell’s shoulder didn’t fully dislocate, but it needed to be popped back into place.
A few minutes later, the Terrapins’ best defender came back, swinging his arms as he walked behind the scorer’s table. Once he reached the Maryland bench, Morsell — his shoulder wrapped — gave high-fives to some teammates and staffers, then told his coaches he was ready to return.
“I was surprised they let him back,” sophomore forward Donta Scott said, “but I’m not surprised that he came back or wanted to come back. He’s done that plenty of times before.”
Morsell, a Baltimore native, powers his team’s defensive effort, and the Terps have relied on excellence on that end of the floor as they have surged to a five-game winning streak heading into Wednesday’s game at Northwestern. Morsell leads the team with 66 assists this season, and he has become a reliable scorer, too, recently recording his 1,000th career point, a milestone only 55 other players in school history have reached. He has been the leader during this chaotic season even as the Terps trudged through the first two months of the Big Ten schedule with only four wins in 13 games. With a spot in the NCAA tournament nearly assured, he’ll soon be the veteran guiding Maryland into the postseason.
“Darryl is and has always been the heart of our team,” said junior guard Eric Ayala, the Terps’ leading scorer.
During that first half against Rutgers, Morsell refused to let his brief absence turn into an extended hiatus. He finished the game with 12 points and clamped down on Jacob Young, whom Maryland had a hard time guarding.
The Terps held on to a double-digit lead through much of the second half, continuing the winning ways they suddenly stumbled upon in February. With about four minutes to go, again while reaching for a rebound, Morsell grabbed that same shoulder. “I’m good,” Morsell said, giving a thumbs-up toward the bench before he needed his shoulder popped back into place again.
“He was begging us to put him back in,” Turgeon said, but it wasn’t worth the risk. Maryland already led by 12 with the game crawling toward its final minutes.
Morsell had a minor shoulder issue before the season, but he didn’t miss any games until the elbow of an opposing player broke a bone in his face during a Dec. 31 game against Michigan. The impact left a visible indentation near his temple, but he was devastated that he had to watch the rest of the game, an 84-73 loss, from the bench. Morsell needed surgery the next morning and was expected to miss one to two weeks. Seven days later, Morsell logged 22 minutes against Iowa.
Morsell hardly practiced last week. There was no damage to his shoulder, Turgeon said, but he was sore. Morsell spent most of his time resting and recovering. At practice the day before Sunday’s game against Michigan State, Morsell’s arm “kind of got pulled back a little bit” during a defensive drill, Turgeon said, so Morsell sat out the rest of practice. Turgeon considered Morsell a game-time decision heading into the matchup with the Spartans, who traveled to College Park coming off three straight wins.
Two doctors cleared Morsell to play, and Morsell, of course, wanted to compete. But Turgeon said he had lost sleep over the decision. The calculus is painstaking. Morsell is a key cog in Maryland’s recent winning formula. The Terps lost the one game Morsell missed because of that facial injury, and the staff will never know whether he might have been the difference in that 63-55 defeat at Indiana. But Maryland also needs Morsell in the postseason. The morning of the Michigan State game, though, Morsell told his coach he felt ready to play, and Turgeon trusted his senior.
When asked after the game how his shoulder felt, Morsell simply said, “If I’m playing, I’m good.”
Morsell sparked his team early, opening the game with a three-pointer and scoring the first five points of the Terps’ 11-0 start. On the defensive end, Morsell held Michigan State’s leading scorer, Aaron Henry, to 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting. Throughout the season, Morsell has guarded some of the conference’s best scorers, including Minnesota’s Marcus Carr and Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu. Lately, some of Morsell’s teammates have lobbied on social media for him to win the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year award.
Maryland’s players understand Morsell’s importance to the team. Ayala joked before the Michigan State game that he was “going to try my best to make sure he’s on the court, if I’ve got to wrap his shoulder up myself.” And then after a week of little practice and the green light from the medical staff, Morsell chose to play, delivering another reminder of his value and the toughness that has defined his season.
“Anything we’re doing, I know Darryl’s going to be ready,” Ayala said after the Terps beat the Spartans. “We could be at practice. We could be about to go bowl. Darryl’s going to be ready. He’s so special. I knew we needed him to be on the floor to win the game.”