Morsell pops Champaign after Maryland upsets #12 Illinois 66-63
Maryland walked into tonight’s contest riding a three-game losing streak and getting embarrassed at home in their last matchup against Iowa. With a loss, the team would be below .500 for the first time this season and their hopes of making the NCAA tournament would slip further away before entering the back half of the season. To make matters worse, Maryland would be without leading scorer and starting point guard Eric Ayala with a groin injury. To win, they would need to find help in a hurry.
The Terps have struggled to find a “go to” scorer this season and have attempted to hand the reins to Eric Ayala, Donta Scott, and Aaron Wiggins, but tonight they would look to their senior leader Darryl Morsell, who would have a career night, to not allow his team to lose the Big 10 matchup, as they found a much-needed 66-63 victory.
The game would be another battle where they would be out matched in the post. In the past several contests, Maryland struggled to defend top tier big men. Michigan, Indiana, and Iowa each controlled the paint and the Terps did not have enough depth to compete with their opponents resulting in three losses. Enter Kofi Cockburn. The Illinois big man is yet another NBA prospect that would tower over Galin Smith and bully Chol Marial all night.
Kofi would give Maryland problems early and often down low. In the early minutes, Maryland knew they had a problem when they could not stop Kofi from punishing them around the rim. Galin Smith, Chol Marial, and Jairus Hamiton all had major problems with Kofi settling in down low and making Maryland uncomfortable throughout the evening.
Mark Turgeon would call upon his guards to provide much needed relief against Kofi. Both Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell would help Smith battle the constant battle with Kofi. It became apparent early that if Kofi got position at the base of rim, they were in trouble. However, if they could defend the entry, they had chance to keep the game close, and that is exactly what the Terps would do throughout the contest. It had to be all hands-on deck if they were going to stop Kofi from taking over.
Brad Underwood’s #12 Illini, who normally shoot well from distance, struggled to make anything from deep. As a team, they shot 5-of-15 from three-point range and Maryland found ways to not only disrupt the entry pass down to Kofi, but his exit pass back towards the arc. This disrupted the timing of the shooters and allowed Maryland to use its length and athleticism to make the night arrhythmic for Illinois.
The game went back and forth all night and Maryland seemed to grow their confidence as the night went on. With seconds left in the first half, Donta Scott would hit a three pointer to cut the lead to two, and Maryland found themselves in a vastly different game from their last matchup against Iowa.
In the second half, Maryland played behind an inspired Morsell and the Terps seemed to battle for every loose possession, tipped pass, and long rebound. There was little talk from the Terps players as they had a businesslike approach to tonight’s game. It was as if losing was not an option and they would will their way to victory.
In today’s NCAA style of play, teams often rely on the three-point shot. Tonight, while shooting well from three, Maryland also found comfort in mid-range game at the top of the key, where Wiggins and Morsell would feast on open opportunities.
In the final seconds of the game, Maryland showed no signs of fear as they found Morsell with the ball in his hands in the final seconds. The masked hero would get around his defender to find his way to the basket and put it against the glass for his career high nineteenth point of the contest and seal the victory for Maryland.
Illinois’ players Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn finish with twenty-three and twenty-one points respectively but Maryland had Morsell, Wiggins, and Scott all in double figures. Despite finishing with less rebounds and assists as well as more turnovers, Maryland found strength in their three-point shooting and free throw percentage to find a way to a much-needed win in the Big 10.
Maryland will get some time off before headed home to face Nebraska on Saturday 12:00 p.m. at Xfinity Center.