HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Ja Morant logged the ninth triple-double in NCAA Tournament history as Murray State trounced fifth-seeded Marquette 83-64 in the first round of the West Region.
Murray State continued a trend of a No. 12 seed winning at least one game in all but three tournaments since 2001 — including last year's — but this looked nothing like an upset.
Morant had 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds as he sliced through Marquette on Thursday and showed the Racers (28-4) were better in every way than their opponent from the Big East. The Ohio Valley Conference champions face fourth-seeded Florida State on Saturday as the Racers next try to take down an Atlantic Coast Conference foe.
Murray State can always count on having the best player on the floor no matter who they play.
With 4:36 left in the second half and Murray State up 20, Morant grabbed his 10th rebound. The Racers fans began chanting "triple-double" to mark the first one since Draymond Green did it for Michigan State in 2012 against LIU-Brooklyn.
The lanky 6-foot-2 Morant this season has rocketed to stardom and into a sure-fire NBA lottery pick — maybe second only to Duke's Zion Williamson — and answered the hype against Marquette.
The game was billed as a showcase of two of the nation's best point guards and Morant and Markus Howard delivered plenty of highlights. Howard scored 16 in the first half on a mix of 3s off screens and hard drives to the hoop.
Marquette promised to make Morant see walls of defenders. The Golden Eagles collapsed on Morant every time he went to the basket and often double-teamed on the perimeter instead of switching on screens. Time and again, Morant found an open shooter while surrounded by defenders. He had eight assists in the first half, five that led to 3-pointers for the Racers, who led 42-35 at the break.
Howard finished with 26 points and Sam Hauser added 16.
As Murray State pulled away early in the second half, Morant had a two-handed slam off a nifty bounce pass from Darnell Cowart. Moments later, Morant fired a cross-court, no-look pass to Shaq Buchanan for a corner 3 that made it 57-40. Morant paused to glance toward the Murray State section and made finger goggles around his eyes. The sophomore seems to see it all on the court.
Murray State: Morant had lots of help from his teammates: Tevin Brown scored 19 points and was 5 for 9 from 3. KJ Williams had 16 points working in the paint and Buchanan added 14 points. The Racers shot 53.6 percent from the field and held Marquette to 32.4.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles struggled to finish near the basket, had only six assists and simply had no answer for Morant. They finished the season losing six of seven.
Murray State: The Racers will have to deal with a long and tall Florida State team next.
Marquette: Did Howard play his last game for the Golden Eagles?