Ja Morant Is For Real

Photo: Jessica Hill (AP Photo)

When a great player’s hype is dependent on masochists who regularly subject themselves to Ohio Valley Conference basketball, it’s not often that they actually shine on the national stage that March Madness provides. But Ja Morant showed up against fifth-seeded Marquette ready to make a splash with viewers across the country. With the first triple-double in the men’s NCAA Tournament since Draymond Green did it with Michigan State in 2012, Morant turned a predictable 5-12 upset into one of those games that will only be referred to with his name.

Morant started this game as it seems all great guards seem to do nowadays: casually pulling up from an obnoxious distance and swishing the three.

But Morant’s first half had hardly anything to do with his scoring. Marquette eventually stacked whichever side of the court he was on with players ready to make his life a living hell if he attempted any kind of shot. The plan worked for the Golden Eagles in the sense that Morant had only two field goals in the game’s first 20 minutes—more on the second one later—but in dedicating more players to the opposing superstar, they always seemed to leave at least one of Morant’s teammates open. It was almost as if they forgot the man they were double-teaming led the nation in assists this past season.

As a result, most possessions ended up looking something like this:

It was a formulaic approach that gave Morant five assists within just five minutes of game time (he’d end the first half with eight), and Marquette just never adjusted. Time and time again he’d go down the court, drive to the basket, draw or freeze anywhere from two to five defenders, and use his incredible court vision to get the ball to someone who was wide open behind the arc. Of course it certainly helped that he had teammates capable of knocking down threes when called upon, like Tevin Brown, who had three of his three-pointers assisted via Morant’s alert passing.

But it wasn’t as though these passes were any sort of concession. Morant said after the game that he lives for getting his teammates in positions to score, meaning that Marquette had basically forced him to do his favorite thing on the court.

Even as scoring seemed to almost become an issue for Morant, his confidence never wavered. That much became clear in the final seconds of the first half. The Golden Eagles appeared to finally have learned their lesson and didn’t immediately bring defenders to double-team Morant. After sizing up the guy guarding him, Morant took a couple dribbles, went with the step-back and hit a James Harden-like three.

That first half was as difficult as it got for Murray State. Marquette chose to just lay down and die in the second half, and Morant and company did whatever they want for those last 20 minutes. Morant was able to find his way to the basket more easily than ever before, which led to his loudest dunk of the night.

Best of all, as the Racers’ lead grew further and further out of their opponent’s reach, it allowed Morant to cement himself among some of the best tournament performances in college basketball history. He picked up seven of his 11 rebounds in the second half which allowed him to become one of the few players in men’s college basketball history to get a triple-double in a tournament game. That list includes players like Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson, Draymond Green twice and Oscar Robertson four times.

Beyond the stats, Murray State also seems to have been able to work cohesively with its future top-3 NBA Draft pick. As SB Nation’s Ricky O’Donnell pointed out, the Racers only let opponents shoot a 46.4 effective field goal percentage this season (20th-best in the country) and 28.5 three-point percentage (fourth-best). That kind of defensive stoutness particularly comes in handy when you’ve got a point guard whose pass-happy style can occasionally lead to a few too many turnovers—Morant ended today’s game with seven.

The question now becomes how far this mid-major darling can go in the tournament. Today’s display showed that good coaching has allowed this team to do the little things well—their ability to switch on defense against Marquette was poetry in motion—while complementing its superstar. But it also showed that the Racers are an athletic, physically-imposing team that flat-out kicked the Golden Eagles’ teeth in. This bodes well for their upcoming match up against Florida State on Sunday. Despite what the scoreboard might imply, the Seminoles really did sneak by a sharpshooting Vermont squad earlier today thanks to their own physicality. Teams that need that extra push often are unable to sustain much success in tournament settings because they have nowhere to hide when exhaustion hits. It’ll be at that moment that a team like the Racers will be in prime position to steal a win. Then, the goals can get loftier.

Source

more recommended stories

  • Aaron Judge Becomes Another Name On A Long List Of Injured Yankees

    Photo: Julio Cortez (AP Photo) Aaron.

  • Columbus Blue Jackets Affiliate Upsets Tampa Bay Lightning Affiliate In Game 1 Of AHL Playoffs

    If you missed the chance to.

  • MLS, Which Is Definitely Not A Ponzi Scheme, Wants To Expand By Adding Three New Teams For $200 Million Each

    Photo: John Minchillo (Getty) Are you:.

  • Warren Foegele Injured TJ Oshie With A Hard Shove In The Back And Was Only Given A Two-Minute Minor Penalty

    With just over five minutes left.

  • Oakland’s Lou Trivino Continues To Do Filthy Things On The Mound

    In just his second season pitching.

  • Vote In The Name Of The Year Sweet Sixteen

    With plenty of real estate remaining.

  • Ajax Have Slain Cristiano Ronaldo, Giant Of The Champions League

    Photo: Michael Steele (Getty) For only.

  • Joel Embiid Couldn’t Keep A Straight Face While Apologizing For His Elbow On Jarrett Allen

    Photo: Chris Szagola (AP) Joel Embiid.

  • Enes Kanter Saved The Blazers From Getting Swept For A Third Straight Year

    One of the hallmarks of surprise.

  • The Refs Lost Control As The Bruins And Maple Leafs Tried To Kill Each Other

    The Bruins took Game 2 against.

  • Sharks’ Logan Couture Is Thankful He Didn’t Lose A Testicle When A Hockey Puck Hit Him In The Dick And Balls

    Down 4-3 in the second period,.

  • Ex-NFL Players Now Have To Jump Through Even More Hoops To Collect Concussion Settlement Money

    Photo: Ronald Martinez (Getty) A new.

  • Calgary’s Andrew Mangiapane Didn’t Have To Embarrass Philipp Grubauer Like That

    Flames winger Andrew Mangiapane decided that.

  • Gerard Piqué Is Barcelona’s Other Superman

    Photo: Stu Forster (Getty Images) It.

  • The New York Rangers Will Have The Easiest Decision Of The NHL Draft

    Photo: Kevin Light (Getty) The New.

  • Marcell Ozuna Lands Flat On Face While Trying To Stop Homer

    In the top of the eighth.

  • Virginia’s Ugly Basketball Now Has Undeniable Results

    Photo: Streeter Lecka (Getty Images) In.

  • WrestleMania Is Too Damn Long

    There will be differing opinions on.

  • Paris Saint-Germain’s Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting Delivers A Strong Contender For Miss Of The Season

    Cameroonian international Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has.

  • Idiot In The Ring Tackles Bret Hart During WWE Hall Of Fame Ceremony

    Tonight’s WWE Hall of Fame ceremony.

  • Three Years After Resigning Over “Inappropriate Relationship,” Tyler Summitt Hired As Former Player And Current Wife’s Assistant

    Photo: Getty This morning, the Fairborn.

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo Proved Something To Joel Embiid

    Photo: Matt Slocum (Getty) Everyone’s just.

  • Wealthy Dad Who Bought Harvard Fencing Coach’s House Insists It Had Nothing To Do With His Son Getting Into Harvard

    Peter Brand’s house in Needham, which.

  • Gregg Popovich Gets Himself Ejected Just 63 Seconds Into Spurs Game

    Screenshot: YouTube Spurs head coach and.

  • Possibly Nothing Is More Grating Than The Noise Of Paulie Malignaggi Talking Shit

    You can decide for yourself the degree.

  • The History And Future Of The Franchise Tag, The Bane Of The NFL’s Best Players

    Photo: Patrick McDermott (Getty) The top.

  • Something Weird Is Happening With UNC Women’s Basketball

    Photo: Mel Evans (AP) The University.

  • Coach K’s Trust In R.J. Barrett Ruins Duke’s Final Four Dreams

    Photo: Alex Brandon (AP Photo) With.

  • Carsen Edwards Went Full Supernova For Purdue And Somehow It Wasn’t Enough 

    Photo: Kevin C. Cox (Getty) An.

  • Andreas Athanasiou Is So Frickin’ Fast

    At this point late in the.

  • FanSided, SI’s Grubby Little Sibling, Isn’t Paying Workers The Pittances They’re Owed

    Illustration: Jim Cooke (GMG) FanSided—the scuzzy.

  • Celtics Fan Banned For A Season And A Half For Calling DeMarcus Cousins The N-Word

    Photo: Ben Margot (AP) A Celtics.