March Madness today: Ja Morant shows out in Murray State win; Maryland, Auburn narrowly escape upsetsMurray State’s Ja Morant posted the first men’s tournament triple-double in eight years in the Racers’ win over Marquette. (David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)By Matt Bonesteel ,Jacob Bogage andDes BielerMarch 21 at 8:32 PM
• No. 12 Murray State gets triple-double from star Ja Morant in upset of Marquette
• No. 4 Kansas easily dispatches No. 13 seed Northeastern, 87-53
· No. 2 seed Michigan State hangs on against No. 15 seed Bradley, 35-34.
• No. 6 seed Maryland wins first postseason game in three years, beats No. 11 seed Belmont, 79-77.
• Minnesota delivered the day’s first upset, eliminating No. 7 seed Louisville, 86-76.
How the NCAA bracket drives us to madness
The beloved NCAA tournament captivates millions year after year, but it’s the bracket that really gets people talking. (Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)
Empty seats for start of Villanova-Saint Mary’s
There weren’t many fans on hand for the start of the South region matchup between No. 6 Villanova and No. 11 Saint Mary’s. Or, to be more precise, there were plenty of fans, it was just that most of them were still trying to get into the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
The cause of the unusually quiet first-half scene was the fact that the game kicked off the second session of NCAA contests at the arena, and the NCAA sells tickets separately for the sessions and mandates that everyone leave after the first. Given that the second game of the initial session, Murray State’s West Region win over Marquette, didn’t end until almost 7 p.m. with Villanova-Saint Mary’s scheduled to tip off at 7:20 — it was pushed back to 7:50 in a nod to the problematic situation — that didn’t leave much time for thousands of fans to be replaced by thousands of others.
Hartford crowd at tip-off for Villanova. Had to clear the arena for the night session. What a mess.
My view at 7:50 and I was in line when they opened the doors at 7:30 pic.twitter.com/90OPtxSf4t
Family tragedy for Florida State player
After No. 4 Florida State’s win over No. 13 Vermont Thursday, Seminoles forward Phil Cofer learned that his father had passed away. An FSU spokesman said (via ESPN) that Cofer got the news in a phone call placed to the locker room, and he was moved to a more remote area where he was consoled by teammates, coaches and other Seminoles personnel.
Cofer did not play in the game because of a foot injury, and it was not immediately clear if he would be with the team for its second-round matchup Saturday against Murray State. His father, Mike Cofer, was a former NFL linebacker who was said to have been dealing with an extended illness before passing away at 58.
Ja Morant is not your average college basketball player, and his Murray State squad showed that it may not be your average No. 12 seed. The Racers began pulling away from the Golden Eagles just before halftime, with Morant notching a rare NCAA men’s tournament triple-double (more on that below) with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists. Murray State’s Tevin Brown chipped in with a team-high scored 19 points. Marquette was led, as it so often was this season, by Markus Howard, whose 26 points were one more than his season average.
Next up for the Racers is Florida State, the No. 4 seed in the West Region which topped No. 13 Vermont in its first-round matchup.
JA JAM! #MarchMadness
Triple-double for Ja Morant
No, Ja Morant was not overrated, as chants by Marquette fans would have it. The Murray State star, expected to be a very high pick in the upcoming NBA draft, notched a triple-double against the Golden Eagles with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 16 assists in an easy win for his Racers.
The effort is believed to be the eighth triple-double in NCAA tournament history, and it was the first since Draymond Green posted a 23-11-10 line for Michigan State in a 2011 loss to UCLA.
Ja Morant completes his triple-double with 4 mins left… #MarchMadness
More on Ja Morant’s big night:- 55 points created: most by any player in last 10 tournaments- 1st player with 15 Pts + 15 Ast in a tournament game since Earl Watson in 2000- Led Murray State to largest margin of victory by a 12-seed since 1999 (Missouri State)
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 AldrichDwyane WadeAndre MillerDavid CainShaquille O’NealGary Grant
Kansas had an unusually frustrating regular season, failing to win the Big 12 title for the first time in 15 years before falling in the conference tournament final to Iowa State. The Jayhawks appeared to take out some of those frustrations on Northeastern, swatting aside the CAA champions with a dominant second half. Four players scored in double figures for Kansas, led by junior forward Dedric Lawson’s 25 points, while junior guard Jordan Roland paced Northeastern with 12 points.
With the win, the Jayhawks extended their streak of winning at least one NCAA tournament game to 13 years. Kansas moves on to face No. 5 Auburn, which squeaked past No. 12 New Mexico State earlier in the day, in a Midwest Region second-round game.
Ja Morant hits halftime buzzer-beater
Murray State may have entered the tournament as a lowly 12-seed, but the Racers have one of the most high-profile players in Ja Morant. The sophomore point guard, who is expected to be a top-three pick in June’s NBA draft, didn’t disappoint during the first half of a game against the West’s No. 5 seed Marquette, racking up 10 points and eight assists and hitting a step-back three with seconds to go.
Ja Morant’s footwork = #MarchMadness
The shot helped Morant’s Racers take a 42-35 halftime lead over the Golden Eagles. For his part, Marquette star Markus Howard more than held up his end of the bargain in a much-anticipated individual showdown within the game. The junior guard, who averaged 25.0 points per game this season, notched 16 in the first 20 minutes.
Bradley had the Spartans worried early. The Braves went to the half leading by one and hung around most of the second half, opening up a five-point lead in the early going. But Michigan State responded with a 13-2 run to pull ahead and regain some confidence. The Braves came back with a run of their own to retake the lead, but the Spartans scored eight straight points and never looked back to avoid the upset.
Maryland’s dubious streak is over. The Terrapins hadn’t won a postseason game in three years, but stormed back to beat Belmont on Thursday behind a gritty second half and their two power forwards on the block. Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith combined for 37 points and 25 rebounds.
POSTER ALERT #MarchMadness
Down 67-60 with 7 minutes to play, Maryland outscored the Bruins, 19-10, down the stretch. Junior point guard Anthony Cowan Jr., struggled to 3-of-19 shooting, including 1-of-11 from three-point range, but hit that only three-pointer with 4 minutes to play to tie the game at 71. Darryl Morsell spun in a layup while being fouled a minute later to put the Terps up three, and Maryland never gave up the lead.
The Terrapins will next face LSU, which defeated Yale earlier Thursday, in the round of 32.
Darryl Morsell = Clutch #MarchMadness
The Seminoles weathered a bumpy start to sprint past the Catamounts in the second half. Vermont put four scorers in double figures, but Florida State responded with 21 points and 8 rebounds off the bench from big man Mfiondu Kabengele and 19 points from starter Terance Mann. The Seminoles will face the winner of No. 5 seed Marquette and No. 12 seed Murray State in the West Region.
Auburn seemingly did everything it could to hand this game to New Mexico State, but made one too many free throws down the stretch for the Aggies to overcome. Up seven points with less than a minute to play, New Mexico State whittled the lead to one point with 29 seconds left on Trevelin Queen’s deep three-pointer.
NMSU NOT DONE YET! #MarchMadness
Auburn went up four with 12 seconds to play, but JoJo Zamora nailed another three to the cut the lead back down to one. Samir Doughty made one free throw for the Tigers with six seconds left to make it a two-point margin, but the Aggies got another chance when Terrell Brown was fouled on a three-pointer with less than two seconds left. He only converted one of three foul shots but that still wasn’t it, as the ball went out of bounds off Auburn. Queen got open on the inbounds play for one last three-pointer from the corner but missed badly at the buzzer, allowing Auburn, the Southeastern Conference champion, to hang on.
No. 3 seed LSU’s whirlwind season continues after withstanding a late rally from Yale, 79-74. The season began with the death of junior forward Wayde Sims, who was shot during a late-night altercation on Sept. 28. The Tigers will finish their season without Coach Will Wade, who has been suspended by the university in the midst of a recruiting scandal. The Tigers are now 2-1 under interim coach Tony Benford, who has previous head coaching experience at North Texas.
Four Tigers scored in double figures on Thursday, including a team-high 19 points from Skylar Mays and double-doubles from Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams. Alex Copeland led Yale with a game-high 24 points.
Bigby-Williams COMING THROUGH! #MarchMadness
No NCAA tournament team this season averaged fewer three-pointers than Minnesota, which came into Thursday’s March Madness opener against Louisville making only 5.2 shots from long distance per game.
But the 10th-seeded Golden Gophers topped that paltry total by halftime, making six over the game’s first 20 minutes and finishing with 11 in a relatively comfortable 86-76 win over No. 7 Louisville in Des Moines.
Gabe Kalscheur, the only reliable three-point shooter in Minnesota’s main rotation this season, led the way as usual with five three-pointers and finished with 24 points. Big man Jordan Murphy, who entered the game with only six three-pointers on the season, made two of his three attempts.
The win must have been especially satisfying for Minnesota Coach Richard Pitino, and not only because it was his first career NCAA tournament win and the program’s first in six seasons. Pitino’s father, Rick, was fired by Louisville 18 months ago over his alleged role in the federal investigation into college basketball recruiting (currently coaching a Greek pro team, the elder Pitino was not in attendance Thursday).
Syracuse announced Wednesday an indefinite suspension for senior point guard Frank Howard. The Orange begin play Thursday against Baylor in Salt Lake City. Howard will be held out of the tournament “for an indefinite period of time,” Syracuse said, because of “a violation of athletic department policy.” Howard played well during the ACC tournament, scoring 28 points against Duke, but he also missed the start of the season with an ankle injury, so the eighth-seeded Orange at last has some inkling of life without Howard heading into Thursday night’s matchup with Baylor. (Read more)
Kentucky Coach John Calipari announced Thursday morning that forward PJ Washington, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, will miss the second-seeded Wildcats’ tournament opener against Abilene Christian with a sprained foot. The coach added that there was no fracture and that the team’s medical staff put Washington into a hard cast for precautionary reasons.
Washington suffered the injury in Kentucky’s SEC tournament loss to Tennessee on Saturday. It’s unclear what Thursday’s update means for his status should the Wildcats beat Abilene Christian, as expected. Calipari, meantime, did his best Wednesday to squelch speculation that he might be interested in becoming the UCLA coach. (Read more)
Other games of note
No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 13 Northeastern, approx. 4 p.m. Eastern (TNT): The Huskies are one of the best shooting teams in the tournament and are a trendy underdog pick against the Jayhawks, who haven’t been seeded this low since 2006, when they lost in the first round as a No. 4 seed.
No. 5 Marquette vs. No. 12 Murray State, approx. 4:30 p.m. Eastern (TBS): It’s a battle of dynamite scorers, as the Golden Eagles’ Markus Howard (25 points per game) battles the Racers’ Ja Morant (24.6 points per game).
No. 11 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 6 Villanova: The Gaels are good at stopping the thing the Wildcats do best — shoot three-pointers — but a defending national champion hasn’t lost in the first round since Connecticut in 2012. Villanova has won the national title two of the past three seasons.
Schedule and results
Game times and TV information. All times Eastern.
- No. 10 Minnesota 86, No. 7 Louisville 76
- No. 3 LSU 79, No. 14 Yale 74
- No. 5 Auburn 78, 12 New Mexico St. 77
- No. 4 Florida State 76, 13 Vermont 69
- No. 2 Michigan State 76, No. 15 Bradley 65
- No. 11 Belmont vs. No. 6 Maryland, 3 p.m., truTV
- No. 13 Northeastern vs. No. 4 Kansas, 3:50 p.m., TNT
- No. 12 Murray St. vs. No. 5 Marquette, 4:20 p.m., TBS
- No. 10 Florida vs. No. 7 Nevada, 6:45 p.m., TNT
- No. 15 Abilene Christian vs. No. 2 Kentucky, 7 p.m., CBS
- No. 11 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 6 Villanova, 7:15 p.m., TBS
- No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson vs. No. 1 Gonzaga, 7:15 p.m., truTV
- No. 15 Montana vs. No. 2 Michigan, 9:15 p.m., TNT
- No. 10 Seton Hall vs. No. 7 Wofford, 9:30 p.m., CBS
- No. 14 Old Dominion vs. No. 3 Purdue, 9:45 p.m., TBS
- No. 9 Baylor vs. No. 8 Syracuse, 9:55 p.m., truTV
Tournament news and notes
The Terps have lost four straight postseason games, three in the Big Ten tournament and a 2017 NCAA tournament opener. No one in the program needs to be reminded. But a loss to Belmont Thursday would raise the heat on Coach Mark Turgeon. (Read more)
If Izzo’s No. 2 seed Michigan State (28-6) can win two games in Des Moines, starting with No. 15 Bradley (20-14) on Thursday, his NCAA tournament win total would reach 50. He’s as much a part of the American March as St. Patrick’s Day or final bursts of cold. He’s part of the landscape, always somewhere on a bracket, 22 years running, having held down every seed from 1 to 10 except 8, having reached seven Final Fours from seeds Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 7. (Read more)
Since 2002, Boeheim and Self have each won more than 100 games decided by five points or fewer, according to KenPom.com. Few trails just behind. All three enjoy winning percentages in close games of nearly 75 percent. (Read more)