- The Washington Times
Monday, March 1, 2021

Darryl Morsell hardly saw the floor leading up to Maryland’s game against Michigan State.

After suffering a shoulder injury against Rutgers on Feb. 21, Morsell visited two specialists. Both said there was no damage. Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon still took a cautious approach; the guard didn’t practice until Saturday, and even that was limited.

So Saturday night, Turgeon laid awake, worrying about Morsell’s shoulder and what might happen if the coach relented to his senior’s wishes the next day.

“I was like, ‘Please God, don’t let Darryl get hurt today if he plays. Just get him through it,’” Turgeon recalled.

Morsell got through it — the shoulder wrap not slowing him down a bit. For the Terrapins, in the midst of a five-game winning streak that places them firmly in the NCAA tournament conversation, Morsell is the player who so often makes the team tick.

It’s not for his scoring, although he posted 11 points Sunday and averages 8.5 a game. Rather, it’s the all-around play centered on his defense that makes the Baltimore native the key.

“Anything we doing, I know Darryl’s gonna be ready,” guard Eric Ayala said. “We could be at practice, we could be about to go bowl or something, Darryl’s gonna be ready. He’s so special. Like I said before the game, I knew we needed him to be on the floor to win the game. He does so many things for us on the court.”

Morsell said after a week of rest, rehab and strengthening of the shoulder, he woke up feeling good enough to compete Sunday.

“I wanted to play,” Morsell said. “And it was a big game, so I went out there for my guys.”

He scored the first five points for Maryland, including an early trey. When Aaron Henry tried to drive on Morsell midway through the first half, the senior tied up Henry and forced the Spartans forward into a travel.

The 6-foot-5 guard turned toward the bench, nodding his head, and said, “I do this. I do this.”

He’s right. He’s done it throughout his Terrapins career, but on a team with a more muted offensive attack than years past, Morsell’s defensive identity is harder to overlook.

Late in the opening frame, Morsell picked A.J. Hoggard’s pocket, then flipped a no-look feed behind him to Ayala for the score in transition.

After a 3-7 start to conference play, the Terrapins turned things around in February, winning six of their eight games while holding six opponents to 60 points or fewer.

Now at 15-10 overall, Maryland sits at No. 26 nationally, according to Ken Pomeroy’s analytics. The team received votes for the AP Top 25 rankings, and their adjusted defensive efficiency is the 27th best in the country.

Morsell is the key to that lockdown mentality, and he’s received support to be named the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year — his teammate Aquan Smart is his most vocal advocate for the award.

Asked Sunday if Morsell was the best defender in the conference, Turgeon hedged. But the coach noted how Morsell’s versatility allows him to guard forwards or point guards, an asset for an undersized team.

“I haven’t really just looked at the league and said, ‘All right, who’s the best defender?’” Turgeon said. “But he could be. Because he’s not only a great defender, he’s a smart defender. And he can play physical.”

Maryland plays Northwestern and Penn State to close the regular season this week before heading to Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament. At this point, with four ranked wins this season and a five-game winning streak in February, the NCAA tournament in Indianapolis seems to be a lock.

In those games down the stretch and in the tournaments, Morsell will once more carry a large role for Maryland. He’s a big-time defender and leader who’s a crucial presence on the court, shoulder injury or not.

“He just kept saying, ‘Coach, don’t worry about me. I’m mentally tough. I’ll be in good enough shape to play,’” Turgeon said. “And he was right. I think he’s kind of, as a senior, he’s earned the right to do things like that.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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