This is Ja Morant’s NCAA tournament and Zion Williamson is just playing in it. Murray State’s sophomore guard flat-out eviscerated Marquette in an 83-64 rout. Morant finished Thursday’s first-round matchup against the fifth-seeded Golden Eagles with 17 points, 16 assists, and 11 rebounds—the 17th triple-double in tournament history, an achievement that places him alongside casual names like Oscar Robertson, Dwyane Wade, and Shaquille O’Neal in the record books. It was a virtuoso performance even by Ja’s spectacular standards; more than that, it was a one-man mixtape tour that made clear there are two phenoms in this year’s tourney who can be referred to solely by their first names.
This 12-versus-5 clash was maybe the most anticipated showdown of the tournament’s opening weekend, as it featured two elite scorers in Morant and Marquette’s Markus Howard. But while Howard entered the contest averaging 25 points on 42.4 percent shooting, he was an afterthought as Ja went about painting his masterpiece. Morant is projected as a top-five pick in this summer’s NBA draft because his athleticism is on par with Russell Westbrook and his passing is on par with, well, Westbrook’s teammates when Russ wants the ball. Ja is the only player in college basketball history to average 20 points and 10 assists per game over an entire season, and he put Murray State ahead in the first half by dominating with his dimes, not his buckets. Take this highlight from the game’s opening minutes, where he dribbled around a double-team before hurtling a pass to senior guard Shaq Buchanan for a 3:
As the first half was winding to a close, Morant lofted a nasty alley-oop to sophomore forward Devin Gilmore:
With five seconds left before the break, he showed off his scoring abilities, creating, oh, approximately 300 feet of space between himself and his defender before launching a stepback 3 to put the Racers up seven.
Then the second half started, and Ja ascended to another level. Behold:
AMERICA, WELCOME TO THE JA MORANT SHOW pic.twitter.com/xFvV0PEWS8— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 21, 2019
Ja did everything in this game, much like he has all season. He threw no-look passes. He effortlessly sliced through double-teams. He combined beautiful ballhandling with uncommon court vision and wait, he can really jump that high? hops. I want all of these highlights converted to tattoos.
On Saturday the Racers will face fourth-seeded Florida State, who looked beatable during a 76-69 win over Vermont. If Murray State gets by the Seminoles, Ja could embark on a legendary tournament run, à la Steph Curry with Davidson in 2008. Morant is a rare athlete and a prized NBA draft prospect. Right now, though, all that matters is he’s a genuine March Madness phenomenon.