What I’m Hearing: USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken describes the buzz surrounding the second-round matchup between Duke and UCF where Zion Williamson will face off with 7’6″ Tacko Fall.
HARTFORD, Conn. — If this was the end of Ja Morant’s college basketball career, as it will likely prove to be, then at least the last basket he scored was a fitting one — curling into the lane, slicing past 7-foot-4 center Christ Koumadje and contorting his upper body up and under the net for a layup.
There were only 105 seconds left in Saturday night’s game by that point, a little less than two minutes left of a rout in which Murray State never really had a chance.
Morant scored 28 points and showed his usual flashes of brilliance, but he couldn’t help the Racers avoid a 90-62 blowout at the hands of Florida State. The Seminoles are heading back to the Sweet 16, while Morant is turning his attention to his future.
The sophomore guard, who has widely been projected as a top-three pick in this summer’s NBA draft, was noncommittal on his future after the game. He declined to talk about the NBA, how he will evaluate his next steps or a timetable for his decision.
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“That time will come,” Morant said. “My focus is not on that right now. It’s just celebrating what a great season we had with my teammates.”
Morant and Murray State became arguably one of the stories of the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend after upsetting Marquette in spectacular fashion. The Racers were energetic, loose, fun — and Morant finished with a triple-double, the first in the NCAA tournament since Draymond Green’s in 2012.
Though Morant wasn’t exactly a hidden gem, Thursday’s game introduced him to a nationwide audience for the first time. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Dwyane Wade tweeted about him. Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic and Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox reached out to him. He said he gained 100,000 new followers on Instagram.
“I look back to when I was 19, I couldn’t have done it,” Murray State coach Matt McMahon said Saturday. “It’s amazing the way he’s handled it, and just a great credit to him and his family.”
Morant’s follow-up performance Saturday was also impressive — he hit five threes in the first half — but he and his teammates lacked some of the swagger they had against Marquette. They struggled all night with the length and depth of Florida State, which wound up with 10 players on the scoresheet and was up by double digits for the entirety of the second half.
By the end, Morant sat on the bench with a March Madness towel draped over his head. McMahon took a knee in front of him and thanked him for what he’s done — for the program, and for the university. Teammate Shaq Buchanan patted him on the shoulder. Morant could only think about the opportunity they’d lost.
“I was just hurt,” he said. “I felt like I could’ve did a lot of things better tonight.”