In the lead-up to Thursday’s West Region matchup between No. 5 Marquette and No. 12 Murray State, most of the conversation was focused on guards Markus Howard and Ja Morant. And as Thursday’s game wore on it was clear that Murray State, in addition to having the best player, was the better team as it won by a final score of 83-64 in Hartford, Connecticut.
Morant (who has three triple-doubles this season) became the first player to post a triple-double in an NCAA tournament game since Draymond Green in 2012, tallying 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds. He’s the eighth player to record a triple-double in an NCAA tournament game since assists became an official statistic ahead of the 1983-84 season.
Individuals can certainly dominate a game, as was the case with Morant, but it takes more than just one player to advance. Murray State (27-4) finished the game with four double-digit scorers and shot 53.6 percent from the field, with Tevin Brown scoring a team-high 19 points.
Also reaching double figures for the Racers were KJ Williams (16 points, four rebounds) and Shaq Buchanan (14, six rebounds, three steals and two assists). The fifth starter, forward Darnell Cowart, added nine points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Next up for Murray State will be No. 4 Florida State, which pulled away from Vermont in the first game of the afternoon session.
Morant controlled the flow of the game, picking apart the Marquette defense in ball-screen situations. And when the sophomore point guard was off the ball he made plays as well, most notably his two-handed dunk in the second half via the “blind pig” play.
Marquette (24-9) was competitive in the first half, with Howard scoring 16 points. But Murray State put together an 11-0 run that began late in the first half, and from that point in the rout was on. Howard finished with 26 points but he needed 27 shot attempts to reach that mark, making just nine.
Sam Hauser added 16 points and ten rebounds and Joey Hauser eight, but only five of the nine Marquette players who got into the game managed to score. By comparison seven of nine Murray State’s players who saw action got onto the scoreboard, with all five starters scoring at least nine points.