On the biggest stage he’s ever played on, Ja Morant turned in one of his best performances.
College basketball fans had been waiting for Morant to play in this year's NCAA tournament since March 10, when he led the Murray State Racers to an Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship win over Belmont.
And Morant didn’t disappoint. The sophomore poured in 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds in an upset 83-64 win over No. 5 Marquette in Hartford, Connecticut.
It’s the first 12-over-5 upset since 2017, when Middle Tennessee State beat Minnesota 81-72.
Perhaps more notably, Morant’s triple-double is the first in the men's NCAA tournament since 2012, when former Michigan State forward Draymond Green tallied 24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a first round win over LIU Brooklyn.
Since assists became an official stat in the 1982-83 season, Morant is the eighth player to score a triple-double in the tournament, joining Green — who did it twice — Cole Aldrich, Dwyane Wade, Andre Miller, David Cain, Shaquille O'Neal and Gary Grant.
Also, according to ESPN Stats and Info, Morant is just the fourth player in the history of the men's NCAA tournament to tally 15 points and 15 assists in a single game. He is the first to pull off the stat line since Earl Watson, who did it for UCLA in 2000.
THE BRACKET: Print the official 2019 March Madness bracket
In the process of stuffing the stat sheet, Morant put on one heck of a show.
The 6-foot-3 pride of Dalzell, South Carolina, danced around triple teams, leaving defenders in a frenzy.
He tossed up jaw-dropping alley-oops.
With smooth footwork, he created space to swish deep three-pointers.
Using a combination of confidence, speed, strength and elevation, he threw down Earth-shaking dunks.
Morant's vision led him to throw full-court passes for slams, too.
And with all of those highlight-reel-quality plays, he made us react like this:
It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time Morant has played in the NCAA tournament. The Racers made the field last year and lost in the first round to West Virginia, while Morant — in comparison to this year — put forth a pedestrian stat line of 14 points, three rebounds and two assists.
This year, it’s clear that Morant and Murray State have improved.
Do the Racers have enough to beat Florida State in the second round and advance to the Sweet 16? We’ll see. But it would bode well for the Racers’ chances if Morant can set up his teammates on Saturday as well as he did on Thursday.
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.