Holy Cross forward Marlon Hargis nabbed a steal and looked to quickly get the ball into the hands of a guard. But Maryland men’s basketball forward Darryl Morsell quickly diagnosed the play, stepping in front of the pass for the interception before throwing down a dunk.
Morsell’s steal and slam pushed the No. 7 Terps to a 23-22 lead midway through the first half, and Maryland never looked back in its 95-71 victory Tuesday.
The defensive play was the initial spark Morsell provided off the bench, a role he hadn’t filled since December 2018. But the junior didn’t allow his exclusion from the starting lineup preclude him from making his presence felt in all areas of the floor — finishing with 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in 23 minutes of play.
“I just saw the player I know Darryl is,” forward Jalen Smith said. “He’s always playing hard. He just doesn’t complain about if he comes off the bench or if he starts, he just plays the game.”
Before Morsell entered the game, the Terps struggled to defend the Crusaders’ fast-paced offense. As Holy Cross coach Brett Nelson was making his head coaching debut, Maryland did not have a lot of material to scout his game plan.
As coach Mark Turgeon watched his team allow 16 points in just over five minutes, the Terps’ ninth-year coach turned to his depth. Morsell sprung off the bench along with guard Serrel Smith and forwards Makhi Mitchell and Donta Scott.
After that group took the floor, the defense made marked improvements and began wreaking havoc with steals, including three from Morsell in the first half.
“He definitely came in and gave us that spark we needed,” guard Anthony Cowan said. “He definitely came out really aggressive, especially on the defensive end — something that he always does.”
During his first two seasons, Morsell’s impact was felt most heavily on the defense. The Baltimore native has often been called upon to defend the opposition’s best offensive option, excluding centers.
On the offensive end, Morsell serves as an athletic slasher, capable of finishing around the rim. That ability will serve the junior well as Maryland looks to play faster and score more in transition.
Turgeon’s goal to play faster came to fruition in Tuesday night’s season opener, with his squad racking up 22 fastbreak points. For that style of play to continue, the defense will need to reflect the disruptiveness that surfaced after Morsell entered the game.
“We came out playing fast,” Morsell said. “It took a little time to get adjusted to. Once we got adjusted to it, started switching screens and stuff, we was able to get stops and get out and run.”
Late in the first half, Smith swatted a shot, and the Terps pushed in transition. With the clock under 10 seconds, Cowan drove toward the hoop, attracted a crowd and dished off for Morsell’s dunk that capped off his 12-point half.
Whether Morsell is called upon as a reserve or finds himself back in the starting five, Maryland will rely on the versatility he showed against the Crusaders.
Morsell knows that this team is deep — the most loaded it has been since he arrived in College Park. If that depth means sacrificing minutes to win, Morsell is ready to embrace the selflessness and fill any role his team needs to win.
“Only five people can start. As a competitor, you obviously want to start,” Morsell said. “Regardless, I’m a basketball player. I’m going to come in, play, try to help the team any way I can — just do what I’ve gotta do to win.”