Three Takeaways from Maryland men’s basketball’s impressive win over No. 6 Wisconsin

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Maryland (6-3, 1-2 B1G) entered Monday night’s matchup coming off a gut-wrenching 73-70 loss against Purdue. However, the Terps bounced back in a big way with a gutsy 70-64 win over the Badgers (8-2, 2-1 B1G). The win was headlined by toughness, confidence and signs of growth. It was also Maryland’s first victory over a Top 10 team since Jan. 28, 2016 against then No. 3 Iowa.

Here are my three takeaways from the massive win:

Darryl Morsell’s defense is nothing short of phenomenal:

After struggling against Purdue on Christmas missing some key free throws, senior Darry Morsell was all over the floor on both ends for the Terps Monday night. While Morsell chipped in eight points offensively, his most valuable contributions came on the defensive end of the floor where he has flourished in his four seasons in College Park. 

Throughout the night, Wisconsin tried to establish much of their offense on the low post with its talented frontcourt tandem of Micah Potter and Nate Reuvers. For much of the night, the Badgers couldn’t do that. Morsell, along with fellow forwards Donta Scott and Jairus Hamilton didn’t allow either player to establish position in the low post, despite their substantial size disadvantages. Although it may seem insignificant, Morsell’s toughness and grit down low was an embodiment of the Terps’ mentality throughout.

“If we’re playing smaller, I’ve got to play big, and just try to use my speed, use my feet to fight bigs,” Morsell said. 

However, Morsell’s most impactful defensive stops and high defensive IQ was evident in the final two minutes. With 1:58 remaining, guard D’Mitrik Trice knocked down a stepback three over Scott bringing the Badgers back to within one. 25 seconds later, Maryland called timeout with a three-point lead in crunch time. 

During that timeout, Turgeon entrusted Morsell, the team’s best overall defender, to lock in on his matchup against Trice. Morsell delivered for his team in a big way, not switching on screens and helping the Terps leave Madison with a monumental win and a big confidence boost.

“At the end [D’Mitrik Trice] was hitting some wild shots, so I went in the huddle and I’m like ‘Coach Turgeon can I just get him one time’,” Morsell said. “Coach Turgeon believed in me and we got enough stops to get the win.”

Maryland’s half-court offense looked rejuvenated with great ball movement and confidence:

Over a 5:20 stretch from the late stages of the first half to the first four minutes of the second half, the Terps missed 11 consecutive shots. However, the Terps didn’t let that bother them as they used a 3-2 zone defense as a catalyst to get back into the game. After an Aaron Wiggins dunk off a steal, Hamilton and Scott converted consecutive tough layups to tie the game at 34.

“It gave us confidence and got our offense going because we got some easy ones,” head coach Mark Turgeon said of the zone defense.

Gaining confidence with the score tied once again, Maryland made nine of its next ten shots over the next 7:19. Hakim Hart and Eric Ayala started off the offensive success with crafty finishes beating their defenders off of the dribble. Ayala’s layup was part of an impressive 17-point burst for the junior guard in the second half finishing as the team’s leading scorer.

Also, during that run, Ayala confidently buried a clutch three for the Terps. Throughout the second half Maryland did an excellent job of moving the ball from side-to-side forcing the Badgers defense to rotate.

However, one of Maryland’s best offensive sets of the day came courtesy of Wiggins and Hamilton. With the Terps leading 48-47, Hamilton showed both exquisite vision and precision with a no-look pass to Wiggins from just outside the three-point line. Wiggins caught the pass in stride after his banana cut from the left baseline and finished the scoop lay-up for a three-point play. That connection was a microcosm of Maryland’s great second-half offense with consistent patience and confidence.

“We started cutting harder, we started changing sides with the ball and making good reads off the dribble,” Turgeon said. “I thought we showed great patience, we waited for the great shot instead of taking a bad shot, we really grew up.”

Maryland’s offense continued to execute at a high-level down the stretch– keyed by Scott. With less than two minutes remaining on back-to-back possessions, Scott took advantage of his matchup with bigger players on him. First, Scott beat Potter for a tough reverse finish. Then, he used an up fake to beat Reuvers for a thunderous poster jam that extended Maryland’s lead to five with less than a minute remaining.

Although it was only one game, Maryland’s significantly improved half-court offense is emblematic of the team’s continued improvement, which bodes well in this daunting 2020 season.

Chol Marial’s development is exciting for Maryland:

As this season has progressed, Turgeon has talked about the importance of the team finding a rim protector. Sophomore center Chol Marial had a strong performance against Purdue battling down low against Trevion Williams and Zach Edey. Marial continued that strong play in his three minutes of action against the Badgers.

“Chol gave us great minutes in the first half,” Turgeon said.

On Marial’s opening defensive possession, the Badgers looked to go after him, finding Potter in the post. Potter lowered his body into Marial and knocked the 7-foot-2 center back towards the rim. However, he recovered quickly playing straight up defensively using his length to block Potter’s interior hook shot. That kind of low-post defense is refreshing for the Terps who continue their search for a rim protector.

Shortly after, Reuvers tried to once again back down Marial in the low post. Again, the young big man stood his ground well and played straight up defense altering Reuver’s shot. As he begins to play more consistent minutes, Marial will need to improve on his discipline defensively. Marial only played three minutes after picking up two quick fouls. However, with more consistent minutes and coaching Marial’s discipline should improve over the course of his sophomore season.

The young big also showed his development on the offensive end of the floor for Maryland. After a strong defensive possession blocking Potter’s hook shot, the sophomore showed off his shooting prowess with a deep two just inside of the three-point line. His ability to knock down perimeter jumpers off of pick and pop plays is another encouraging sign in his continued development and is another added element that will make Maryland more challenging to guard.