Darryl Morsell plays hero as Maryland basketball fights back to beat Minnesota, 74-73

Guard Darryl Morsell dribbles upcourt during Maryland men's basketball's 74-73 win over Minnesota on Feb. 26, 2020. (Eric Andre/For The Diamondback)

MINNEAPOLIS — Anthony Cowan had passed up the shot. When he raced down the floor, there were still too many seconds on the board to force a 3-pointer. Aaron Wiggins also passed it up, dishing the ball to guard Darryl Morsell.

Morsell didn’t have any more time to wait, though. He didn’t have any more time to consider the best course of action in this situation — the unlikeliest of all situations, considering the one-time 17-point deficit. So he took the shot. And he made the shot.

With that triple, Morsell lifted No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball to a 74-73 victory. From the depths of a 16-point halftime deficit, the Terps kept nibbling back. And while Minnesota had held them at bay for much of the second half, Morsell finally did the deed, ensuring Maryland wouldn’t drop a second straight matchup.

“Aaron hit me,” Morsell said, “and the rest is history, man. Shot went in. Crazy, man.”

[Read more: In loss to Ohio State, Maryland basketball was left frustrated at second chances allowed]

Forward Jalen Smith’s put-back dunk with 14 seconds remaining made Morsell’s attempt possible, corralling Cowan’s miss and throwing it down with authority. And then Golden Gophers guard Gabe Kalscheur missed the front end of a 1-and-1, gifting the Terps a path back into the game.

Cowan caught the ball on the wing, but center Daniel Oturu held the guard in front of him, forcing Cowan to pass rather than drive the lane to score a quick two, as Turgeon had initially hoped. Instead, the ball found its way to Morsell. And Morsell ensured that black hole of a first half didn’t suck Maryland into the void.

“He has guts to do it,” Turgeon said. “And he knew he was going to make it. He shot it like he knew he wanted to make it.”

As the Terps mobbed Morsell at the final whistle, it seemed so long ago that coach Mark Turgeon had shed his extra layer of clothing in frustration.

He had just watched forward Isaiah Ihnen drain his third 3-pointer in the opening minutes of Wednesday’s game — Minnesota’s sixth make in about as many minutes. So the Maryland coach whipped off his suit jacket and flung it toward the bench behind him.

That’s also where Smith had wound up a few minutes earlier after picking up two fouls — the second of which Turgeon earned a technical for choice words toward the referees. And that’s where Cowan found himself for the final minute of the first half, called for a technical foul for the second straight game, slapping the floor in exasperation.

“We’ve got to get our emotions in check,” Turgeon said. “I deserved it, OK? But I wasn’t trying to get one. We’ve just got to get our emotions in check; we’re having too many technicals. We’ve got to act with a lot more poise than we’re acting with right now.”

[Read more: After loss to Ohio State, Maryland men’s basketball dips to No. 9 in latest AP poll]

It was Smith’s absence that hurt the most, however, dragging on for much of the opening frame’s final 16 minutes as Minnesota built an edge that seemed formidable. But even the most imposing walls can be scaled, the sturdiest of gates breached.

The Golden Gophers nailed their first five shots — and five of their first six triples — to build the early makings of a hefty lead. But the disparity between the sides on Wednesday wasn’t fully exposed until Smith picked up his second foul, coming on a loose-ball challenge.

That’s when Smith first put his hands out, appearing to plead his innocence knowing a lengthy spell on the bench would follow. And that’s when Turgeon earned his technical, coming onto the court to let his displeasure be known.

“It’s a frustrating thing,” Smith said. “Want to be out there to support your team, but I had to roll with the punches.”

Once Smith returned following nearly 12 minutes on the bench, the 6-foot-10 big man lasted just 22 seconds before he stood with his palms facing the arched roof of Williams Arena. All around him in the stands, Minnesota fans realized what that whistle meant — another trip to the bench, holding Smith to just four first-half minutes.

And without Smith, Oturu posted 15 of his 28 points in the opening period against a rotation of Marial, Donta Scott, Ricky Lindo and Joshua Tomaic. Then Cowan was called for his second technical foul in as many games, falling after making a layup and slapping the court.

“It was really tough for us,” Wiggins said. “But with the mindset of the individual players on the team, we just want to find ways to win.”

So when the halftime buzzer sounded, Turgeon strolled over to the officials. He chatted with them as the team made its way from the floor, trailing by 16. A student manager picked up Turgeon’s discarded jacket and left the court, too. Then Turgeon followed, needing to find some way to turn the game on its head.

Turgeon wore that jacket again to begin the second period, and Smith and Cowan were also back on the floor.

With their return, Maryland improved. That scoreline began to inch nearer and nearer, and the deficit dropped to single digits again when Wiggins sank a floater in the lane. But then Oturu found himself open on the right wing and sent his smooth stroke down through the net, restoring a 12-point advantage.

The Terps would climb back again, though, with Cowan laying off the ball to Smith for a straight-away 3-pointer, part of the forward’s 14 second-half points. And Wiggins picked off an errant pass and finished it off with a thunderous jam to bring his squad within four points.

Smith made it a two-point game later with his put-back dunk, and Morsell played hero at the end of a baffling game, one that looked done-and-dusted by halftime but featured a slow-and-steady comeback, ending with the team grabbing and jumping around Morsell, the one who saved the Terps from a second straight loss.

“That thing was money,” Wiggins said. “I turned around and I just saw him on the other end of the court with Stix holding him like a baby. It was insane.”

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