As the buzzer sounded with 5:03 left in the first half, Darryl Morsell walked to his bench. The Maryland men’s basketball guard was the hero with the ball in his hands the last time he visited Minneapolis, rattling home the go-ahead three to lead the Terps to victory over Minnesota last February.
This time, he was on defense. The result was all the same, though, as Morsell tracked guard Gabe Kalscheur’s movements. And with the shot clock nearing zero, he jumped, swatting the ball away.
Morsell’s block was a preview of what was to come for Maryland Saturday afternoon. Fueled by an energetic defensive display, the Terps secured another road upset, beating the No. 17 Golden Gophers 63-49.
“We locked in defensively from the first possession,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “It was really good defensively. Darryl locks in on [Minnesota guard Marcus] Carr, we were into our matchups, we were fighting. We were guarding the ball. We were fighting on the post. We really rebounded well, we were giving up a lot of size. Defensively, we were just terrific.”
It wasn’t an easy task. Maryland’s defense floundered when the Terps traveled to Ann Arbor on Tuesday, giving up 87 points. Turgeon’s squad struggled to maintain consistent effort when guarding the Wolverines.
In Carr, Minnesota had a crafty playmaker who could exploit such a deficiency. Carr entered Saturday’s matchup with a 20.6 point per game scoring average, a player with a knack for getting to the rim and finishing at will.
Weary of Carr’s threat, Turgeon put Morsell on him. And the senior guard delivered, harassing the Golden Gophers’ talisman in the opening nine minutes. Carr coughed the ball up twice as Minnesota’s offense sputtered, notching just three points.
“I know how important my energy is and how other people feed off of it,” Morsell said. “So I always try to come out early, set the tone defensively for the rest of the team and everybody just follows behind.”
And on offense, an undersized Terps’ bunch flashed its scoring punch. Much of that punch revolved around guard Eric Ayala. Maryland’s leading scorer was a force early, netting a pair of threes and a layup to push the Terps out to a 17-6 advantage.
That lead would soon diminish as Carr found his bearings, scoring seven points in three minutes — part of a 9-0 scoring run that brought Turgeon’s squad’s advantage to just three.
Still, Maryland was out in front. And fueled by defensive intensity — an intensity that was noticeably absent against No. 7 Michigan on Tuesday night — the Terps would soon build on their early dominance.
Maryland’s perimeter defense, led by Morsell and Hakim Hart, continued to pester Minnesota’s guards. Meanwhile, the likes of Jairus Hamilton and Donta Scott patrolled the interior, out-rebounding the Golden Gophers 15-12 despite a sizable height advantage.
“I thought we did a great job on the boards,” Turgeon said. “We were giving up a lot of size out there and we were physical on our box-outs and had some really big-time rebounds.”
All this amounted to a nine-point advantage at the end of the half.
It seemed that lead would only swell in the early moments of the second frame, as the Terps’ defense continued to roll. After two early Carr buckets, Minnesota went over four minutes without a score.
However, Maryland experienced a similar dry spell, hitting just two shots in the opening 7:16 of the second half. The levee soon broke for the Terps, however, with Ayala leading the charge. The Wilmington, Delaware, native buried a pair of baskets to give Maryland a 48-37 lead. Ayala scored 21 points Saturday afternoon, buoyed by a smooth off-ball game that allowed for the junior guard to get to the rim with ease.
“We’ve been drilling cutting back door and stuff,” Ayala said. “With our offense, guys are going to try to deny us. Just reading the play, if they’re gonna deny us, the back door is gonna be open.”
And despite Carr’s best efforts, Minnesota couldn’t overcome. The Terps’ defense hounded the Golden Gophers in the paint and on the perimeter, keeping constant guard on the likes of Carr and Both Gach. Carr scored 25 on 8-of-14 shooting, another glittering display in a season increasingly filled with them.
But Minnesota fell flat, shooting just 24 percent from the field in the second. And although Maryland’s offense wasn’t at its best Saturday afternoon, its defense was sparkling, holding the Golden Gophers to just 49 points — nearly 30 fewer than their season average.
The Terps wrapped it up at the free-throw line. And as they drifted off the court, having secured a third road victory over ranked opposition, the impact of Saturday afternoon’s win was clear. The tools are there for Maryland to solidify its status as one of the Big Ten’s toughest competitors. For Turgeon and the Terps, it’s just about replicating that effort night after night — a markedly easier task as Maryland moves towards a more forgiving portion of the conference schedule.
“We just gotta be more consistent and hopefully we can get there,” Turgeon said. “We might not win every game but we just [want to] be more consistent as a team. If we do that, I think we’re all gonna enjoy COVID basketball a lot more than we have.”