Needing a game and a pep talk from his mother, there was a learning curve for Darryl Morsell to get comfortable wearing a mask following a facial fracture.
The senior’s first game since surgery to repair the injury and donning his new look produced only three points in 21 minutes off the bench for the Maryland Terrapins. His second was a career-high 19 points and some crucial baskets in the Terps’ upset victory over No. 12 Illinois.
To help with the discomfort, some padding was taken out prior to Sunday night’s 66-63 win. But the biggest key was the advice his mom gave him following his return against Iowa.
“My mother was like, 'take that mask home with you and wear it everywhere,' so I’ve been walking around my apartment with the mask on to get used to it,” Morsell told the media in a Zoom meeting prior to the game.
Not only did it get the guard accustomed to his new accessory, but it also set him up to deliver when his Terps needed his impact the most. Without leading scorer Eric Ayala and facing a team with a strong inside presence and 3-point shooting, it could have shaped up for another rough evening.
“That's what moms are for right,” head coach Mark Turgeon said postgame. “And thanks Carolyn, really, really appreciate it.”
Early on in the second period, Morsell set the tone for the Terrapins. Much of the night saw the offense struggling without their top scorer and initiator Ayala. Yet, the team was in it and that’s when Morsell took over. Fifteen of his 19 points came in the second half, including a personal 9-0 run for the Terps that briefly gave them a five-point advantage.
His final points came in a strong drive to the basket, finishing around the 7-foot Kofi Cockburn and giving Maryland the edge 64-61 with 30 seconds left.
In addition to his offensive output, Morsell did what he’s best known for throughout his tenure in College Park: the little things. He led the team in assists, had four rebounds and a second-half steal.
“I think it shows how important he is to us,” Turgeon said postgame. “He's the heart of this team, he's everything for us and hopefully we can keep him healthy and hopefully he can continue to lead this team. After the game tonight I just said, 'this is not an easy team to lead,' I said 'leaders got to be relentless.' He's got to keep leading.”
Throughout the season, the Maryland coaching staff has lauded Morsell for what he brought to the court. Not only is his leadership as a four-year player vital to the team’s success, but his small contributions on the court are felt as well. Aside from his defensive efforts, Morsell’s never been counted upon for his offensive game. He’s an eight-point per game scorer in his career, with his career-high being 18 points he last hit two seasons ago.
It just happened that against Illinois, they needed him to be their top scorer.
“He's that guy on our team who we need him for, it could be anything that game,” junior Aaron Wiggins said. “It could be just rebounding, it could be 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. When he's like that our team is at the peak of our play and he's great for us.”
As for his mask, it will likely be a mainstay for a good chunk of the rest of the season. His mom, Carolyn, did a good job reminding him by crashing the postgame press conference.
It doesn’t appear Morsell will need a reminder, but it’s always good to reinforce it especially in these times.
“Just listen to me and wear the mask,” Carolyn Morsell said.