- The Washington Times - Monday, January 11, 2021

Darryl Morsell’s return to action didn’t go as planned — for himself or his team. One week after undergoing surgery to correct a fractured bone in his face, Morsell played 22 minutes against Iowa on Jan. 7 while wearing his required protective face mask.

But in that 22-point defeat, the Maryland basketball guard appeared more impacted by the face mask than he originally anticipated. He scored three points and committed six turnovers as part of a poor team-wide display. So Morsell called his mom, Carolyn, for advice.

“My mother was like, ‘Take that mask home with you, and wear that mask everywhere,’” Morsell said Saturday. “So I’ve been walking around the apartment a little bit with the mask on just to get used to it.”

Carolyn Morsell’s advice to her son seemed to work. With that mask on his face, Darryl Morsell carried the Terrapins to a 66-63 upset win against then-No. 12 Illinois on Sunday night, pouring in a career-high 19 points to accompany his dogged defense just nine days after surgery.

“He’s the heart of this team,” Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said. “He’s everything for us.”

Morsell suffered the broken bone in his face on New Year’s Eve against Michigan, taking an elbow from Wolverines forward Franz Wagner. He felt the pain immediately but hoped it would subside. Then, guard Eric Ayala told Morsell about the indentation visible on the side of his face.

Morsell left the contest, and while Turgeon said Morsell wanted to continue playing, the senior was taken to a trauma center following the game. He had surgery the next morning.

The sequence was another setback for Morsell, who missed time before the season with a shoulder injury that still impacted him some in the early portion of the campaign. He began to find his rhythm, then was sidelined once more.

“We’ve basically gone two-and-a-half games without Darryl Morsell,” Turgeon said. “Second half of the Michigan game, at Indiana, and then Darryl wasn’t at his best against Iowa. I think it shows how important he is to us.”

With Morsell more comfortable with his mask Sunday — Turgeon said they removed some of the padding — he made life difficult for Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu, a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate. Dosunmu still scored 23 points, but he shot 39 percent from the field to do so.

Morsell, meanwhile, showed life on the offensive end, too. He knocked down one triple and hit eight of his 16 attempts overall. But his biggest contribution came with 33 seconds remaining. Turgeon called a timeout with his team leading by one point, needing a score to help prevent a buzzer-beating victory for the Illini.

The coach turned to Morsell, who drove off the right wing and finished at the rim through contact, securing enough breathing room for the Terrapins to hold onto the upset.

“It was just a great game for him. It was just a good bounce back,” guard Aaron Wiggins said. “I mean, he’s that guy on our team who we need for — it could be anything that game. It could be rebounding, making plays for others, and tonight it was a little bit of everything. He was scoring the ball at will, he was rebounding for us, making plays, and he was being a leader. So when he’s like that, our team is at the peak of our play.”

After the game, Morsell’s mom, Carolyn, surprised him in the video conference call. After Carolyn successfully unmuted herself — proving her son wrong, who said “she don’t even know how to work it” — she told Darryl she was proud of the team’s effort and reminded him to keep wearing his mask around the apartment, like she said after the Iowa game.

“I did listen to you,” Darryl said.

“Good job!” Carolyn responded.

So Maryland knows who to thank for Morsell’s breakout night.

“That’s what moms are for, right?” Turgeon said. “Thanks, Carolyn. Really appreciate it.”

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

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