It felt like the ball hung in the air for an extra split second out of Darryl Morsell’s hand. The suspense had built through a steady but furious second half-comeback, a final minute that took nearly 20 minutes, and a decisive possession that seemed to drag on forever.

Morsell’s shot fell, and No. 9 Maryland men’s basketball stunned Minnesota, 74-73, after perhaps the most epic comeback in a season littered with them.

The Terps trailed by 17 points in the first half and 16 at halftime. They trailed by 14 points with nine minutes left. They trailed by eight with two minutes to play and still by four with 15 seconds left. They trailed for 39:10 of game time and led for just 24 seconds. But Morsell’s heave fell with 1.9 seconds remaining, and the team improved to 23-5 overall and 13-4 in Big Ten play.

Maryland’s piled up the improbable wins this season. There’s the highway robbery at home against Illinois, and an impressive road comeback against the Illini two months later. There’s the second-half surge at Northwestern. There’s the 7-0 run in the final 1:08 at Indiana, and the 14-0 run in the final 3:08 at Michigan State. All in one season.

But this one vaults over all of those.

The avalanche started quickly. Jalen Smith picked up two personal fouls in the first four minutes. Minnesota hit six of its first seven 3-pointers to take a 21-8 lead. The Golden Gophers stretched their advantage to 14 late in the period. Smith returned to the game and picked up his third foul just 22 seconds later. The hosts took advantage, pulling ahead by 17 before taking a 47-31 lead into the break. Maryland shot 10-of-32 in the first half (2-of-14 from distance), and Minnesota stars Daniel Oturu and Marcus Carr almost outscored the Terps by themselves (15 points each on a combined 10-of-13 shooting).

Maryland started the second half on a 7-2 run, but Minnesota answered and was still up 16 with 16 minutes left. The Terps first got within single digits on an Aaron Wiggins floater with 11:14 remaining, and following another Gophers response, a 10-0 Maryland run made it 64-60 with 6:37 left. Smith came alive, racking up 14 points and 12 rebounds in the second half alone. But it was still 72-64 with 2:06 to play, and 72-67 entering the final minute.

After Gabe Kalscheur blocked Anthony Cowan Jr.’s layup with 29 seconds left, the Gophers had the ball up 73-69. But they were faced with one-and-one free throws, and Marcus Carr missed the front end to give the Terps a chance. Cowan missed a three, but Smith slammed home a putback to make it 73-71. Maryland fouled Kalscheur, and he missed the front end, and the Terps had a chance. Cowan thought about it, but pulled back, and the ball found Morsell, who had no choice but to let it fly.

And now he’s the hero.

Wiggins and Smith led the Terps with 16 points each, while Morsell scored 13, Donta Scott notched 11 and Anthony Cowan Jr. added 10. Maryland shot just 37.9 percent as a team and connected on just 6 of 28 triples, but strong performances on the boards (45-36) and at the foul line (18-of-22) kept it close enough.

Minnesota, meanwhile, fell back to earth after a scorching-hot start. After starting 6-of-7 from 3-point range, the Gophers made just three of their final 17 attempts, finishing 10-of-24. They shot just 34.5 percent in the second half. And the dominant performances of Oturu (10-of-13, 28 points, 11 rebounds) and Carr (7-of-15, 19 points, seven assists) were the only double-digit outputs on the roster.

As the dust settles, Maryland sneaks out of Minneapolis with a two-game lead on the Big Ten field. For the Gophers, it’s a crushing blow to their NCAA Tournament hopes, as they fall to 7-11 in the league and 13-14 overall. Minnesota was actually favored, and it had this game in hand pretty much the entire night.

Until it didn’t.

THE NOTEBOOK

– Cowan started his 127th consecutive game at Maryland, passing Keith Booth for the program record. That was really the best thing about the senior’s evening — he shot 2-of-15 from the floor, missed all eight of his 3-point attempts and was called for a technical foul after a first-half layup. In past years, though, he’d let this affect the rest of his game. On Feb. 26, he contributed nine assists, six rebounds and three steals to the comeback effort.

– With Cowan struggling and Smith overcoming foul trouble, Wiggins turned in his second straight stellar performance. After scoring a career-high 20 points at Ohio State Feb. 23, the sophomore shot 6-of-8 from the floor and knocked down a pair of threes to finish with 16 points in 28 minutes off the bench in this one. He was a plus-14 in a game his team won by one.

– Maryland’s extended bench saw some extra run out of necessity. Chol Marial, Joshua Tomaic, Ricky Lindo and even Scott took turns guarding Oturu with Smith on the bench. Hakim Hart logged nine minutes on the wing (Serrel Smith Jr. didn’t play). And this quartet was a combined minus-1 in 21 minutes of action. The depth still isn’t where Maryland wants it to be, but it’s one more thing to feel better about after that stunner of a basketball game.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Thomas Kendziora

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