Heading into Monday night’s game against No. 6 Wisconsin, Maryland men’s basketball was at risk of starting 0-3 in conference play for the first time since 2010-11.
However, a massive second half and a strong defensive effort sparked the Terps to their biggest win of the year, grabbing the 70-64 upset on the road.
The victory was Maryland’s first over a top-10 team since Jan. 28, 2016, when the team took down No. 3 Iowa, and the first such win on the road since Jan. 19, 2008 in a game against top-ranked North Carolina.
Here are my biggest takeaways from the victory in Madison.
The Terps shot the lights out in the second half
The last time Maryland shot better than 50% in a half was in the second period of the team’s loss to Clemson, in which the Terps sunk 51.9% of their 27 looks. In the team’s last three games, they finished shooting 34.4%, 46.2% and 43.1% respectively, losing two of the three contests.
The Terps’ offense was slowed in the first half, with the team heading into the locker room down by four with just 37% of their shots falling through the basket. Maryland failed to score any points in the final 3:37 of the first half, which stretched into the start of the second as the team missed 11 straight shots from the floor.
But after breaking the slump, Maryland seemingly couldn’t miss, hitting 64% of its shots in the period, increasing the game percentage to an even 50.
“I thought we showed great patience,” head coach Mark Turgeon said. “And we waited for the great shot instead of taking a bad shot. That was really the key. We really grew up.”
Guard Eric Ayala, who led the Terps in scoring, tallied all 17 of his points in the second half, including a perfect 5-for-5 clip from the free throw line. The junior hit two threes in the game and finished shooting 45.5% from the floor after missing all three of his shots in the first.
Sophomore Donta Scott added 10 points of his own in the final 20 minutes, including the emphatic dunk in the game’s closing minutes that secured the win.
In total, 46 of Maryland’s 70 total points came in the second half as they outscored Wisconsin by 10 in the period to secure the massive win.
“It was just a matter of us getting good shots,” junior Aaron Wiggins said. “And, there have been multiple times where our team might not be shooting the ball well, but we’re still able to go on a run eventually. We know that our time’s coming because basketball is just a game of runs, and when things aren’t going our way, we know it’s just a matter of time before things flip and we have a little run.”
Maryland won the defensive battle
Entering the game Monday night, the Terps knew that they would need to stay in the fight for the first 20 minutes in order to have a chance later on.
Maryland held the Badgers to just 28 points in the first half in a defensive, tallying four of the team’s five total blocks in the period.
Though the team’s win was largely sparked by a lights out second half of shooting, defense was the real key to the Terps’ success down the stretch.
“We won the game because we got a few stops there at the end,” Turgeon said. “We stepped it up defensively, which is what we have to do because our offense is not where it needs to be yet.”
After forcing seven turnovers throughout the contest, Maryland registered 10 points by way of the fast break, compared to none by Wisconsin.
Junior Darryl Morsell led the team on the defensive end, picking up three huge blocks in the game, with center Chol Marial and Wiggins tallying one each as well. Wiggins also led the team with two steals, both of which came in the first half.
The Terps also won the board battle, out-rebounding the Badgers 32-29, including a six-rebound difference on the defensive end.
Darryl Morsell played like a senior
Morsell used his strength on the defensive end of the floor to continue his comeback after struggling in the team’s last few games.
The senior has dealt with a shoulder injury to start the season, hindering any real production as he averaged just 5.6 points in his last five games, including a 1-for-6 performance at the line in the team’s last loss against Purdue on Christmas Day.
“[Turgeon] looked me in my eyes and told me, like, ‘you built for this, for real,’” Morsell said about his performance on Monday.
Morsell played a season-high 36 minutes on Monday night, recording just two personal fouls in his time on the floor. The senior, standing at just 6-foot-5, has adjusted to a different roster this season without big-man Jalen Smith and has been up against some of the biggest opponents on the floor.
“This year, we’re probably gonna have to play smaller a lot to push the pace and stuff like that,” Morsell said. “If we play small, I got to play big. So I just try to use my speed, move my feet and stuff like that to fight bigs.”
The Baltimore native ended with eight points on 3-for-6 shooting, five rebounds and two assists on the offensive side of the ball.
Maryland greatly benefited from Morsell’s leadership on the floor in the big win as his defense sparked a second half comeback that sent the Terps home smiling with their first conference win of the season with a tough Big Ten slate ahead.