BALTIMORE — Maryland men’s basketball took down Loyola-Chicago, last year's Final Four Cinderella, 55-41 in the Charm City Classic. It will go down as a neutral-court win, but it was, unsurprisingly, a Terps-heavy crowd.
The game was the featured half of a doubleheader at Royal Farms Arena. Prior to the matchup, two Baltimore-area teams battled to the finish, with Morgan State topping Towson 74-69. This is the third game Maryland has played in Royal Farms Arena in the last four seasons, but this one was different. Despite being the best matchup Mark Turgeon’s team has played in Baltimore, the game itself was a sloppy win. But that couldn't detract from the excitement in the arena. That's because for the first time since 2011-12 — Turgeon’s first season at Maryland with Sean Mosley and Nick Faust — the Terps have two Baltimore natives not only playing, but starting.
Maryland’s win over Princeton on Dec. 19, 2015 was the first time the Terps had played in Baltimore in 16 years. Turgeon followed it up by scheduling Charlotte at the same arena the next season. No games were played in Baltimore last season, but with two locals starting, this was a can’t-miss opportunity.
“Maryland doesn’t really have the connection with the city that it should have,” former Baltimore City Public School Chief Operating Officer J. Keith Scroggins, ‘79, said before the game. “I think things like this will get people more interested in the university from Baltimore, and I think there will be greater participation in these kind of events.”
Fellow Charm City natives and former Terps Keith Booth and Rodney Elliott made appearances. They were later joined by Ernie Graham, who preceded their track from Baltimore’s Paul Lawrence Dunbar High to College Park. Jalen Smith and Darryl Morsell’s former coach Pat Clatchey showed up, as did other notable faces among the crowd of 3,460. Maryland Senate President Mike Miller may have encompassed the reality of the event best.
“I’ve been here with Gary [Williams], I’ve been here with Lefty [Driessel], now I’m here with Turgeon,” Miller told in-game host Rob Long of 105.7 The Fan. “This should happen every year.”
Morsell and Smith have started together for the Terps in all but one game this season. The former high school teammates led Mount St. Joseph to both the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and Baltimore Catholic League—its second straight—crowns in 2017. Morsell joined the Terps last season, while the five-star prospect Smith arrived this summer.
“It’s a great feeling to be back in Baltimore, the city I grew up in, and have the support from all these fans,” Morsell told Long after the game. “It means a lot, coming from the city of Baltimore, playing in your home state. I chose to stay home, and I’m happy with my decision.”
Two days after playing 34 minutes in a two-point loss at Purdue, Morsell twisted his ankle in warmups and was limited to 12 minutes in front of his home crowd. He’d finish with four points, a rebound and one of Maryland’s season-high 12 blocks. Smith wasn’t hindered by injury but found himself in foul trouble all game, also limiting him to 12 minutes. However, the 6’10 big was available in the crunch.
With Loyola-Chicago not having a single player over 6’9, Turgeon’s two-big lineup was not that effective. Bruno Fernando and Smith each picked up a foul in the game’s opening two minutes. Smith subbed out, but Turgeon kept Fernando in until he picked up a reach-in foul with 17:11 left in the half that both Turgeon and Fernando described as “silly” in postgame. Smith was subbed back in later in the half, but picked up his second foul with over 10 minutes left in the period.
Smith played the game’s final 1:41, subbing in for Fernando and coming up with two big blocks at the end. He finished with just one point, three rebounds and three turnovers, but bulked up his stat line with three blocks and a steal.
Bench production from the likes of Ricky Lindo, Ivan Bender and Joshua Tomaic helped seal the deal in a game where Maryland led by as much as 17 in the second half, even though the Terps never looked dominant. The win probably won’t be enough for the Terps to retain their No. 23 ranking, but the lasting impact of this game will depend on how Maryland capitalizes on its presence in the area.
“Any time you can bring basketball back to Baltimore, where a lot of the guys that played on this court showed up today ... it’s always special,” Baltimore native and Cecil Community College assistant women’s basketball coach James Thomas said after the game. “As a fan growing up from Baltimore, we’ve seen [Booth, Elliott and Graham] play on this very court. So we’ve seen the history of it, and we’ve seen what can come in the future for the guys that came in today from Maryland. So the future is bright for Baltimore basketball.”