Ja Morant Outduels Markus Howard as Murray State Routs Marquette in Upset Win

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2019

HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT - MARCH 21:  Ja Morant #12 of the Murray State Racers celebrates scoring at the end of the first half during the first round game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Marquette Golden Eagles at XL Center on March 21, 2019 in Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Ja Morant and the 12th-seeded Murray State Racers dominated Markus Howard and the fifth-seeded Marquette Golden Eagles on their way to an 83-64 victory in the first round of the 2019 NCAA tournament on Thursday in Hartford, Connecticut.

Morant sparked the upset by becoming just the eighth men's player since 1984 to record a triple-double, posting 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds for the Racers. Tevin Brown contributed a team-high 19 points.

Howard had 26 points in a losing effort for the Golden Eagles. 

All-Around Game Makes Ja Morant Perfect March Madness Star

HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT - MARCH 21:  Ja Morant #12 of the Murray State Racers drives the ball down court during the first round game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Marquette Golden Eagles at XL Center on March 21, 2019 in Hartford,
Rob Carr/Getty Images

On his way to becoming the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, Morant (24.6 points per game) found himself among the top scorers in the nation.

However, he can do more than just get buckets. That much was apparent Thursday.

One game after he dropped 36 points on 13-of-25 shooting against Belmont in the OVC title game, Morant was held to just two field goals in the opening 20 minutes against Marquette. But he was still the star of the show.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Ja Morant is ready for #MarchMadness 👌 https://t.co/jxqWkiLn5O

The 6'3", 175-pound guard put his playmaking abilities on display in the opening minutes, escaping a double team while setting up teammate Shaq Buchanan for an open three:

Plays like that are why he entered the game averaging 10.0 assists on the season.

Morant later put an exclamation point on a strong first half by knocking down a trey in the closing seconds to send his team into the locker room with a seven-point lead:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

🗣 Talk your talk, Ja https://t.co/Tah94GIJPS

The Murray State sophomore scored or assisted on an astounding 31 of his team's 42 points in the opening half. The Racers made only three field goals in which the star guard didn't play a part.

That impressive performance (10 points, eight assists, four rebounds) had Morant in position to make a run at a triple-double in just his second career NCAA tournament game. And he wasn't done.

He continued to dominate in the second half, dazzling as Murray State pulled away from Marquette on its way to the upset:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Ja Morant. WOW. https://t.co/XBsYBrOb4d

By the end of the game, he had joined exclusive company:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Ja Morant has become the 8th player to record a triple-double in the tournament since assists became an official stat in 1983-84. He joins: Draymond Green (2x) Cole Aldrich Dwyane Wade Andre Miller David Cain Shaquille O'Neal Gary Grant https://t.co/as8wmS2uE9

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Ja Morant doing it all 🔥 https://t.co/vzBzBtAycN

And plenty of people around the internet took notice:

Nicole Auerbach @NicoleAuerbach

I think it's time for the Marquette section to retire the "over-rated" chants. Morant is responsible for 31 of Murray State's 42 points at the half (by my count).

Seth Davis @SethDavisHoops

For those of you watching Ja Morant for the first time ... congrats. Yes he really is that good.

Seth Davis @SethDavisHoops

It's Ja Morant's world. We're just living in it.

Dan Wetzel @DanWetzel

Considering how important point guard is in current NBA can we get a Morant should be No. 1 pick debate going? Or, nah? Kid is ridiculous.

Taylor Rooks @TaylorRooks

Ja Morant wow.....I guess the win would technically be an upset but this doesn't feel like an upset. Feels like the best player on the floor is being the best player on the floor.

After going one-and-done in last year's tournament, the Racers will hang around a little longer this year—and that will give Morant more time in the spotlight. 

Lack of Balance Proves Costly For Marquette 

HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT - MARCH 21:  Markus Howard #0 of the Marquette Golden Eagles drives the ball past Shaq Buchanan #11 of the Murray State Racers during the first round game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at XL Center on March 21, 2019 in
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

While Morant is the Racers' leader, it wasn't a one-man show for Murray State on Thursday. The same can't be said for the Golden Eagles.

A team effort nearly helped Marquette overcome a brutal shooting performance by Howard (1-of-15 from the field) against Seton Hall in the Big East semifinals. Three members of the supporting cast stepped up to provide the Golden Eagles with double-digit scoring, led by Sam Hauser's 22 points.

That type of balance was missing Thursday.

Howard kept Marquette in the game early on, scoring 13 of his team's first 20 points. After his team fell behind by double digits early on, the Big East Player of the Year helped even the score with seven consecutive points during a 10-0 Golden Eagles run.

NCAA March Madness @marchmadness

That's TOUGH, Markus Howard! 🔥 #MarchMadness https://t.co/nCfDWKulzp

The junior guard put up a scoring display in the first half. Unfortunately, he could only watch as his team limped into the locker room.

Howard picked up his second foul of the game with 4:40 to play in the opening half and spent the remaining time on the bench. Murray State held just a 30-27 lead at that point. With its best player out of the game, Marquette was outscored 12-8 over the final four-plus minutes before halftime.

John Steppe @JSteppe1

Markus Howard picks up his second foul. Wojo replaces him with Chartouny. 4:40 until halftime. Huge loss for #mubb. Murray State up, 30-27. #MarchMadness

Pete Thamel @PeteThamel

Ja Morant looks completely in control and unflappable. He's got 10 points, eight assists and four rebounds. Picking apart Marquette in every way. Markus Howard has 16 points in 15 minutes, sat final 4:40 after picking up second foul. Murray up 42-35.

That proved a pivotal stretch.

Not only did the Racers gain some breathing room with Howard on the bench, but they also carried that momentum into the second half, gaining total control by coming out of the locker room on a 7-0 run. They never looked back as the lead swelled to 22.

A total of four Racers players were in double figures by the time the second half reached its midway point. On the other side, Hauser was the only Golden Eagle besides Howard (12 at the time, 16 for the game) to have more than even six

That forced Howard to play hero ball, and it didn't turn out well for Marquette.

What's Next

Murray State advances to the second round, where it will take on No. 4 Florida State on Saturday for a spot in the Sweet 16.

Marquette ends its season with a 24-10 record.