With a mask and without backcourt mate Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell willed the Maryland men’s basketball team to victory.
The senior shooting guard from Baltimore scored 16 of his team-high 19 points in the second half to fuel the Terps’ 66-63 upset of No. 12 Illinois on Sunday night at the State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois.
Sophomore forward Donta Scott, who entered the game leading Maryland in rebounding (7.3) and ranking second in scoring (12.9), contributed 16 points and seven rebounds to help the program end a three-game losing skid and avoid its first four-game losing streak under coach Mark Turgeon and first since a four-game stretch against former Atlantic Coast Conference rivals Clemson, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Clemson again in the 2004-05 season.
“It was big,” Morsell said of the victory. “You know how hard it is to get wins in the Big Ten, especially on the road. So it was good to get this win. I think we came in locked in, paid real attention to the scouting report, and we believed. I think believing was the biggest thing.”
Morsell, a Mount St. Joseph graduate, had the hot hand to open the second half, scoring nine of the Terps’ first 14 points. That flourish was headlined an offense that converted six of its first seven shots from the floor.
Morsell, who wears No. 11, was matched by his jersey number counterpart, junior shooting guard Ayo Dosunmu, who scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half. At one point, Dosunmu scored nine straight points for the Fighting Illini.
Trailing 61-59 with less than 90 seconds remaining, sophomore shooting guard Hakim Hart drained his first 3-pointer of the game from the right with 1:18 left to give Maryland the one-point lead. After Illinois missed a field-goal attempt, Turgeon called a timeout, and Morsell capped his performance with a driving layup from the right wing and over 7-foot sophomore center Kofi Cockburn with 33 seconds left.
“We’ve basically gone two and a half games without Darryl Morsell — the second half of the Michigan game, at Indiana, and then Darryl was a mess at Iowa,” Turgeon said. “I think it shows how important he is to us.”
Junior shooting guard Aaron Wiggins sank two free throws with 17 seconds remaining to pad the Terps’ cushion to 66-61, and after sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu hit a layup with eight seconds left. Sophomore forward Donta Scott missed the front end of a one-and-one with seven seconds remaining, and Dosunmu’s three-point attempt with one second left was too strong, banging off the back rim.
Morsell, who defended Dosunmu at times and particularly in the final minutes, said he expected the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer (22.4 points per game) to get his points.
“My job today was to just make it as tough as possible for him and just win,” Morsell said. “I go out there to win. I’m not worried about any stats. I knew that at the end of the game, the ball was going to be in his hands. So I just tried to make it as tough as possible for him.”
After revealing Saturday that his mother Carolyn Morsell implored him to wear his face mask around his apartment to develop a comfort level with it, Morsell joined his postgame video conference to find his mother taking part.
“I just wanted to say that you guys played an awesome game, and you just listen to me and wear the mask, OK?” Carolyn Morsell said.
“I listened to you,” Darryl Morsell replied.
“Good job,” she said.
The Terps missed junior point guard Eric Ayala, who was ruled out before the game due to a groin injury suffered in a 89-67 loss at No. 5 Iowa on Thursday night. The team countered with a three-guard set of Morsell, Wiggins and Hart, but none of the three is a true point guard.
Turgeon said Ayala initially injured his groin in a 73-70 loss at Purdue on Christmas Day and then reaggravated it against the Hawkeyes. He said Ayala did not practice Saturday.
“All day, I knew he wasn’t going to play,” Turgeon said. “I just wanted him to be good with it.”
Dosunmu led all scorers with 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Cockburn added 21 points and 10 rebounds to maintain his double-double average this season.
Senior forward Galin Smith, who is 6-9, and sophomore center Chol Marial, who is 7-2, took turns defending Cockburn, who scored only five points in the second half.
“I thought he played great,” Turgeon said of Smith, who finished with two points and six rebounds in a season-high 27 minutes. “I thought Chol gave us great minutes. We needed it.”