After its worst offensive half of the season, No. 9 Maryland needed a boost. A spark. A shot in the arm. And when head coach Mark Turgeon and senior point guard Anthony Cowan challenged Darryl Morsell to be that spark, Morsell did not back down from the request.
Morsell got out in transition, scoring six consecutive points that helped the Terps cut into Rutgers’ lead. Morsell’s 11 second half points, including three big free throws helped the Terps escape the Xfinity Center with an 56-51 victory.
“At halftime I got challenged. Coach Turgeon challenged me. Anthony challenged me. Coach Haynes challenged me,” said Morsell. “I don’t know what was going on in the first half.”
The first half was an ugly slog for both squads. The Terps got an early boost from Jalen Smith, who scored eight points in less than five minutes. Maryland built an early lead and went to their bench early. But Smith could only watch as the reserves squandered it away. The trio of Chol Marial, Serrel Smith, and Ricky Lindo Jr. struggled to make an impact and Rutgers erased the Terps eight point lead.
The starters checked back in but lost momentum. They suffered a scoring drought of 7:34 and missed their last nine field goals to end the half. But the Scarlet Knights couldn’t capitalize. They suffered their own drought, missing six consecutive field goals as well.
The Terps 20 points in the first half were the team’s lowest for any half this year. Morsell, Eric Ayala, Aaron Wiggins and Donta Scott shot a combined 2-15.
“They really packed the lane. It wasn’t too many driving lanes and then we wasn’t hitting shots,” said Cowan. “Very physical, which made the game more fun for me. They play with a lot of intensity.”
The Terps were down five to start the second half, but Morsell would not let the lead get any bigger. He got the scoring going with a massive slam dunk. One possession later, he leaked out in transition to finish a left-handed lay-up. Then, the Baltimore native followed up a Cowan miss with a putback dunk and the Terps were down one. Smith followed up Morsell’s run with his own personal 6-0 run, capped by a thunderous slam that drew a foul.
“That was truly amazing….that’s a rare occasion dunk from Darryl. It hyped the whole crowd up,” said Smith. “He jumped kinda far for his, but I got an and-one on mine.”
Maryland had a 47-39 advantage but the pesky Scarlet Knights responded. They put together an 8-0 run, which included a controversial hook foul on Cowan that resulted in two shots and the ball. After a Ron Harper Jr. jumper, the score was knotted at 47.
The Terps were struggling offensively so as they often do in close games, they put the ball in the hands of Cowan. Cowan felt Rutgers’ Montez Mathis start to reach in, so he wisely ripped through and shot a three-pointer in hopes of drawing a foul. It worked, and he calmly drained all three free throws to put the Terps up 52-49.
“I watch a lot of basketball and I always see players do (that). This is my first year doing it honestly,” said Cowan of his move to draw a foul. “He (Mathis) was playing with his hands a lot, especially on the defensive end in the first half. Luckily I was able to get him one time with that.”
Rutgers had the ball down two with a chance to tie the game late. Guard Caleb McConnell had an opening to the rim but when he saw Smith (who had a career-high six blocks) protecting the paint, he threw the ball away. It rolled out of bounds and the Terps would hang on to win, despite not making a field goal in the final 5:33.
“We just wanted to win. At the end we kinda wanted it more,” said Morsell. “Coach Turgeon trusted his veteran guys. Teammates trusted us and we stepped up and made big plays.”
The win propelled Maryland to first place in the Big Ten and the schedule does not get easier. The Terps will travel to Champaign on Friday to take on Illinois, who is also 8-3 in the Big Ten. The Terps won the first meeting by a point back in December, and they will need Morsell to continue to be a spark if they want to pick up their biggest road win of the season.
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