- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 21, 2021

Right when Rutgers seemed on the verge of closing the gap Sunday, Maryland guard Darryl Morsell had his say.

The senior, who left the contest twice with a shoulder injury, bided his time on the right wing. When Clifford Omoruyi switched onto him, though, Morsell hit the gas, driving toward the rim and finishing around the 6-foot-11 center with an up-and-under move.

Then Morsell went tearing down the court again moments later, received a pass from Aaron Wiggins in transition and rose up for the two-handed slam. Those baskets — coming 25 seconds apart — spelled the end of the Scarlet Knights’ push.

The Terrapins rode the contributions of five scorers in double figures en route to a 68-59 win against Rutgers, extending a four-game winning streak that has arrived at just the right time.

With March rapidly approaching, these late-season victories continue to bolster coach Mark Turgeon’s team’s chances of playing in the NCAA tournament.

“You win four games in two months and you win four games in eight days,” Turgeon said. “So it changes everything. Today really changes a lot.”

Maryland’s season has gone through a series of ups and downs. The highs: beating Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota, all ranked teams at the time. But away from those resume-building wins came several losses. And while many of them were understandable considering the strength of the Big Ten, a loss at Penn State on Feb. 5 left the Terrapins’ season at a tipping point.

The squad sat at 4-8 in conference play, then dropped another contest against No. 4 Ohio State. The offense looked languid. The shots didn’t fall. And hopes for an NCAA tournament bid were running out for a .500 team.

But ahead of Maryland’s matchup with Minnesota on Feb. 14, Turgeon kept repeating a message to his players.

“He just kept saying, ‘The best is yet to come.’ And guys believed it,” Wiggins said. “You know, guys felt like we hadn’t had a great season up until that point, but we felt like we could still turn it around. So, guys really bought into it.”

The Terrapins beat the Golden Gophers. Then they beat Nebraska twice. Those three wins — powered by defense rather than offense — set the stage for a timely resurgence that continued Sunday in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Rutgers missed nine of its final 10 shots in the first half, allowing Maryland to claw its way in front. The Terrapins entered the break with an eight-point edge, and that gap expanded in the second with defense leading to offense. Eric Ayala knocked down a transition 3-pointer early in the second half — one of his three treys — to capitalize on another Rutgers turnover.

The Scarlet Knights made a run, though, using an 11-2 stretch to cut their deficit to six points. But Morsell’s two quick baskets re-established the breathing room before he departed with his shoulder injury once more.

Turgeon said Morsell’s shoulder didn’t completely come out, but came “to the edge.” Trainers popped the shoulder back into place twice, and while Morsell begged his coaches to put him back in the contest, Turgeon declined. Morsell will see a specialist Monday to assess the injury.

But the Terrapins had enough production to see out the end of the game. Ayala led with 14 points, Wiggins followed with 13, Morsell and Hakim Hart posted 12 and Donta Scott provided 11.

And the defense — holding the Scarlet Knights to 38% shooting with 15 turnovers — came through again, prolonging a February winning streak that could prod Maryland into March.

“We just keep getting better,” Turgeon said. “Guys are buying in. Guys are totally dedicated to what they have to do to be successful.”

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