With less than 15 minutes remaining in the first half against Northwestern Tuesday night, junior guard Darryl Morsell received the ball in the right corner beyond the arc and immediately got to work.
Without hesitation, he took off towards the paint, where two Northwestern defenders collapsed on him. Instead of panicking and giving the ball away, the junior guard corralled a a bounce pass around his opponent closest to the basket into the hands of sophomore forward Jalen Smith, who used his long wingspan to drain a layup from the left block.
Right before the end of the half, Morsell again gave his high school teammate a picture-perfect look inside.
After securing a long pass from Anthony Cowan Jr. in the paint, Morsell gave up his own shot and threw the ball up to Smith, who slammed down a dunk with authority.
“Darryl was always a great passer, pretty much he passed the ball to me every time in high school — we [were] that one-two punch — but he’s become more efficient with his passes,” Smith said after the game. “He’s just pretty much a better facilitator than what he used to be, finding other people and making good looks.”
Just three days after tying a career high with six assists against Michigan State, the junior guard racked up seven Tuesday night, which also happened to be his 21st birthday. Morsell alone accounted for 41.2 percent of Maryland’s 17 assists, with his passing leading to 17 points for the Terps.
Morsell has been known as the key “glue guy” for head coach Mark Turgeon’s squad, always the defender that opponents hate going up against the most because they know he’ll shut them down.
But in his junior season, he’s developed much more of an offensive identity to go along with his lockdown defense, with passing being the latest cog in his arsenal. His 13 assists over his last two contests are the most he’s ever had in that span in his collegiate career, and he’d never reached that number over three games either.
“It’s really cool, you coach guys and watch them get better,” Turgeon said. “Last year at this time I was like, ‘Dang, I don’t know if this is gonna work, he kept turning the ball over — live ball turnovers. And to see where he is a year from now, what he’s doing, is really good.”
Around this time last season, Turgeon sat down Morsell for a serious talk. He told the then-sophomore that he needed to take care of the ball better, and if he didn’t, he wouldn’t see time on the floor.
The Baltimore native averaged 1.5 turnovers per game to just 1.6 assists through Feb. 19, 2019, but improved his statline to 1.3 turnovers and 2.7 assists per contest from that point onward.
While he noted that he’s tried to play slower and stay grounded so he can read the floor better, it’s hard for Morsell to pinpoint what’s made the difference in his passing — even acknowledging that he’s struggled with turnovers at times this season. But realizing what’s at stake has certainly played a factor.
“I don’t know if it’s the time of the month or this time of the season, I just know we are good when we take care of the ball,” Morsell said. “It’s really hard to beat us when we get a shot every possession. That’s just my main focus just making sure we get a shot every possession.”
The Terps were able to do that and more Tuesday night, taking 63 field goal attempts on 61 possessions, in addition to 22 attempts at the charity stripe. And the team scored on 55.7 percent of those, good for an impressive 1.2 points per possession.
Morsell certainly played a big role in that effort, also finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds.
“He’s just turned into this player, totally bought in to what he has to do. They don’t guard him and he still figures out how to get in the paint, make plays for himself, make plays for everybody else,” Turgeon said. “He’s a really confident kid right now and is in a very good place.”