Maryland men's basketball guard Darryl Morsell entered Thursday 2-for-19 from 3-point range. At times, even when opponents left him open due to his shooting struggles, the freshman has nearly airballed his 3-point attempts.
So, when Morsell sunk a triple while Minnesota guard Jamir Harris closely guarded him midway through the second half, Harris and teammate Dupree McBrayer turned their heads in disgust in near-synchronization.
As if any Morsell triple isn't demoralizing enough, the bucket came near the end of a 24-4 run that lasted more than seven minutes and gave the Terps a 17-point lead, plenty of cushion with about 11 minutes left in the Terps' eventual 77-66 win that puts them back at .500 in Big Ten play.
"I knew we were going to win when that went in," coach Mark Turgeon said.
Maryland's Big Ten slate has been largely devoid of teams and victories like Thursday's. The Terps (15-6, 4-4 Big Ten) and Golden Gophers (14-7, 3-5) held identical conference records before playing each other.
Maryland's four losses have come against four of the conference's top five teams, and two of its three wins had come over Iowa and Illinois, squads with a combined 1-12 conference record.
So, despite Maryland's Big Ten losses being far more memorable than its wins — either as utter blowouts or collapses — it has remained in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, even after its heartbreaking loss at No. 23 Michigan on Monday.
"It was hard after the Michigan game," guard Anthony Cowan said. "We just sat in the locker room after for 20 minutes just in shock and irritated about it. Coach really made sure to tell us to leave the game behind us."
Maryland's 24-4 run and easy final 12 minutes represented it taking advantage of an opportunity its early schedule had rarely afforded. Guard Kevin Huerter tied for a game-high with 19 points, his most since Maryland's win over UMBC on Dec. 29.
Both teams struggled offensively early, but Maryland built an eight-point lead with 3:29 left in the first half. The Golden Gophers scored the final seven points of the half, however, entering halftime trailing just 29-28.
"We weren't happy with how we ended the first half," Huerter said. "We talked all game about not being content with whatever lead we built, getting up to eight or nine. We kept saying we wanted to push it up to 15 or 16."
Minnesota extended that run to start the second half and held a three-point advantage before Maryland responded with one of its best runs of the year.
Center Michal Cekovsky took advantage of the Golden Gophers allowing him to roll to the basket freely and threw down five dunks in the spurt, many on lobs from his teammates, scoring 12 of his 17 points during the stretch.
"It makes it really easy on the guards, just throw it up near and around the backboard and he'll go catch it," Huerter said. "We were really running the same play over and over again."
The Terps added four 3-pointers to Cekovsky's dunks, including one from guard Anthony Cowan, his first of 15 points, which all came in the second half. The sophomore also posted 10 assists for his second career double-double, a result of Minnesota "really trying to get the ball out of [his] hands," he said.
Minnesota shot 35.9 percent Thursday and never came within 10 points in the final 13:40, giving Maryland the type of decisive win it has rarely enjoyed this season. It won't be long, however, before Maryland's schedule — which Turgeon has called the hardest in the Big Ten — toughens again, with games against Indiana, No. 9 Michigan State and No. 3 Purdue looming.
"We know there's been some opportunities that we've let get away from us," Huerter said. "But sitting at 4-4 in the league, we're not in a bad spot."