After playing three of four games away from Xfinity Center, including the last two, the Terps looked like a different team in Thursday’s home win over Minnesota.
Though it helped to have an opponent going through its own difficult stretch and being even more shorthanded in its frontcourt, Maryland exuded a different vibe for most of the game.
Except for a stretch early in the game and late in the first half, the Terps ran their offense better than they have for most of the past few games. They also had more assists than turnovers for just the ninth time in 21 games, this season.
Considering that Maryland’s schedule has more home games than road games the second half of the Big Ten season, there’s a chance that Mark Turgeon’s team could finally develop the way he and others thought it might going into the year.
Here are some observations and opinions from Maryland’s 77-66 win over Minnesota:
Darryl Morsell looked much more confident shooting the ball.
The freshman guard from Mount Saint Joseph has had, on balance, a terrific first season at Maryland. Except for a few Big Ten games, Morsell looked like the aggressive and explosive player he was early in the season.
The biggest difference with Morsell is whether he thinks his shot is going in.
Though he does other things when it doesn’t — evidenced by the eight rebounds he grabbed when he missed all seven shots he took in a 22-point loss last week at Ohio State — Morsell seems to pick up all aspects of his game when it does.
Against Minnesota, Morsell hit 5 of 8 shots from the field, including his only 3-point attempt, and made both of his free throws to finish with 13 points. He also had five rebounds and played terrific defense on Dupree McBrayer, holding the Minnesota guard to 3 of 12 shooting.
McBrayer, who torched the Terps in the second half of Minnesota’s road win last season with 14 of his 18 points, was coming off a career-high 24 points in his team’s overtime win at Penn State Monday. McBrayer never got on track Thursday.
Turgeon half-joked about Morsell’s 3-pointer — just the third he has hit all season — saying, “I knew we were going to win when that went in,” — then added later, “All Darryl cares about is winning. He wants to guard, he wants to rebound he wants to execute.
“Fortunately for him, he gets to play 35 minutes a night. It’s a lot on his plate and he always has to guard a really good player. McBrayer’s a really good player and Darryl did a very good job on him until the very end. Darryl was terrific. He competes every day in practice, he competes in games. I’m glad we got him.”
The Maryland men's basketball team delivered an efficient and balanced performance in Thursday night's 77-66 victory over Minnesota, but the trick might be doing it against the more formidable teams in the Big Ten.
As tough as it’s been for the Terps after losing forwards Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender to season-ending injuries, the Gophers are in much more dire situation without sophomore forward Amir Coffey and senior center Reggie Lynch.
Just based on what they had done this season, Coffey and Lynch were a big part of why Minnesota had started 13-3. Coffey was a great third scoring option behind junior forward Jordan Murphy and senior guard Nate Mason, and Lynch was the heart and soul of the team’s interior defense.
While Jackson was leading the Terps in rebounding, he was having a disappointing season offensively. Though Bender was a versatile player to have off the bench, his injury has given opportunity to redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic to show he has a much bigger upside .
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino had high praise for the healthy players Turgeon is using.
“To have as much depth as he has and sustain Jackson getting hurt and Bender getting hurt, they’re still a terrific team and a force to be reckoned with,” Pitino said. “They had Michigan beat at Michigan. They were certainly a difficult matchup for us tonight.”
Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley need to do more than just shoot 3s.
One of the reasons why Jackson and Kevin Huerter immediately stepped into a starting roles as freshmen was because Nickens never became more than a one-dimensional player his first two years. One of the reason Morsell did this year is because Wiley had the same problem.
While both upperclassmen have shown their ability to shoot 3-pointers throughout their respective careers, the fact that they often do little else has opened the door for others. It is also one of the reasons the Terps faded last season, and could again this year.
Nickens played one of his best halves in Monday’s 68-67 loss at Michigan. It was more his defense and rebounding (four) that stood out than his shooting, though he made a rare pull-up 17-footer with a defender in his face rather than his traditional spot-up 3-pointer.
In the second half, and again Thursday, Nickens reverted to being just a gunner. Which is hard to do when you only take one shot. But that shot — a quick pullup off-balance 3-pointer in the first half with the Terps struggling offensively — was enough for Turgeon to pull him.
Nickens got a second chance late in the half and did get a defensive rebound after Huerter blocked a shot. He didn’t get off the bench in the second half, which should be enough of a signal to one of the team’s most veteran players that he has to do more than shoot.
As for Wiley, he could have been given a little bit of a pass after missing the previous two games with a concussion. After scoring 10 points in the first half of the Iowa game before getting hurt, Wiley was rusty, and missed all four shots he attempted.
But his last shot — a corner 3-pointer late in the game and early in the shot clock — caused him to be yanked as well.
It came with a little over three minutes left and the Terps, who had built their lead to as much as 17 points early in the second half, suddenly were looking at the Gophers closing in on single digits.
Both shots looked like they could have have been taken in an AAU summer league game, not a Big Ten game for a team desperately trying to hold onto its chances of making a fourth straight NCAA tournament. Still, Turgeon needs every player he can use down the stretch, and Nickens and Wiley need to play harder and smarter to give the Terps a shot at a meaningful post-season invitation.
Former Terp All-America Len Elmore, who did color commentary on the FS1 telecast, said Friday that Turgeon “was fortunate that he could afford to pull them out of that game. When they go to film session, the memory of being pulled out of the game and the reminder of why you were pulled might change them up a little bit. Mark’s got to finish his criticism up with we need you, you don’t have to be a scorer to contribute. Your shots will come, you don’t have to hunt your shots.”