With ten seconds left on the shot clock and almost no other options, Darryl Morsell took matters into his own hands and decisively drove through two of Illinois’ best defenders. First Ayo Dosunmu with a blow by and then, at the rim, he met all seven feet and 285 pounds of Kofi Cockburn. It took a tough double clutch to get the two, but as he had all game, Morsell got the bucket and put the Terps up three with 33 seconds to go.
“We all believed coming into this building that we could get this one done, Morsell said. “And we locked in and did what we had to do to get it done.”
Morsell’s career-high 19 points coupled with his late game resilience allowed Maryland (7-6, 2-5 B1G) to overcome Illinois (9-4, 5-2 B1G). Maryland captured a brand of basketball it hadn’t realized all season and eventually managed to upset the star-studded Fighting Illini 66-63.
For the first time in weeks, the Terps looked like they belonged in the Big Ten. Of course, poor performances from Dosunmu and his back court running mates helped, but Maryland brought energy on both sides of the ball that kept the Illini at bay.
Given the state of Maryland’s front court, it was probably safe to assume Cockburn would dominate against the Terps. So, when the sophomore center frequently found himself around the rim finishing easy, the Terps had to find an answer to their front court woes.
They didn’t, But while in search of a response to Cockburn’s front court supremacy, they earned some great minutes from Chol Marial and Galin Smith. The front court duo briefly slowed down Cockburn in spite of a significant weight disadvantage and helped fortify Maryland’s paint defense.
“I thought [Smith] played great,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “I thought Chol gave us great minutes. We needed it.”
Still, the Terps spent the entirety of the first half chasing the Illini. A combined 25 points from Cockburn and Adam Miller kept Illinois on top 34-32 to entering the final half.
With the back court run thinner than usual with the absence of Eric Ayala, it was next man up for the Terps. The next man was of course, Morsell, who got going early in the final period.
“[Morsell] was scoring the ball at will, he was rebounding for us, making plays and he was being a leader,” Aaron Wiggins said. “And when he’s like that, our team is at the peak of our play.”
After scoring just four points in the entire opening half, Morsell dropped 11 in the first 7 minutes of the final period. Morsell couldn’t miss, and his corner three off a Hakim Hart assist with 15:15 remaining gave Maryland the lead it had been patiently vying for since the first half. A pair of free throws by Morsell along with a Hart layup off a Wiggins no-look pass was enough to put Maryland up 50-45, forcing Dosunmu to orchestrate a response of his own.
Donsunmu’s single-man, 9-4 run evened up the score to 54-54 heading into the final 10 minutes and after a back-and-forth struggle between the two sides, the junior guard swiftly slid through the defense to drain a contested scoop layup at 4:08 to give Illinois its first two point lead since the start of the half.
A scoreless three minutes ensued between the two teams and a streak of bricked shots was enough to eventually catch an Illini defender sleeping. Hart was there to hit the open three to put Maryland up one and with Illinois still unable to score, it was Morsell who iced it in the following possession with a circus shot on a towering Cockburn.
Illinois, having failed to make a field goal since the four-minute mark, had no response for Morsell’s heroics and crumbled in the closing seconds.
Maryland’s Big Ten marathon will resume against a potential tune-up opponent in Nebraska on Saturday.