|Morant, Murray State take aim at Florida State|
Ja Morant lived up to the hype with a memorable first-round performance.
The Murray State guard receives another opportunity to build on his growing legend when the 12th-seeded Racers (28-4) attempt to knock off fourth-seeded Florida State (28-7) on Saturday in the NCAA Tournament West Region second-round matchup at Hartford, Conn.
Morant, a sophomore point guard billed as a top-five NBA draft choice, was brilliant in Murray State's 83-64 pounding of fifth-seeded Marquette on Thursday when he had 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds. It was the first triple-double in NCAA Tournament play since Michigan State's Draymond Green turned the trick in 2012.
It also was the type of showing -- coming during March Madness -- that can elevate a reputation skyward.
"I really don't pay too much attention to the hype," Morant said Thursday after his triple double, for which he gave himself a "grade" of 3.5 out of 5. "I just try to go out and play the same game every night. Just try to do whatever I can to help my team come out with a win."
Racers coach Matt McMahon gushes about the composure Morant shows, especially with how fast he has gone from being obscure to a nationally renowned talent.
"I try to put myself in his shoes at 19 years of age, could I have handled this the way he has, and there's just no way," McMahon said of Morant. "He's just so humble. He comes from an incredible family. He has a great support system. And he hasn't changed one bit through all of the media hype, all the NBA hype.
"He's just stayed focused getting better as a player. A Murray State leader and helping this team be the best team it can be."
Florida State certainly won't be surprised by Morant's skillset when it takes the court against the Racers.
The Seminoles posted a 76-69 victory over Vermont in their first-round game as they were the stronger team over the final 11 1/2 minutes.
Senior guard Terance Mann fueled the charge by scoring 17 of his 19 points in the second half.
"He kind of gives us whatever we need in certain games," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said of Mann during the postgame press conference. "And the interesting thing about him, he's unselfish almost to the point that if we're winning and we have a margin that we're working on, he very seldom becomes that aggressive.
"But when we're behind, he takes it to another level, and this is something we've seen him do consistently night in and night out for us this year."
Sophomore power forward Mfiondu Kabengele recorded 21 points and 10 rebounds and was a force inside against the Catamounts. He may again have an interior advantage against Murray State.
The Seminoles played before the Murray State-Marquette matchup so Hamilton didn't know if he would need to prepare for Morant when he held his postgame press conference.
"It's going to be another game that if we don't play well, you could go home," Hamilton said. "So I'm trying to keep everything in proper perspective."
Florida State senior forward Phil Cofer missed the Vermont game with an injured right foot. Hamilton said he is day to day and is hopeful Cofer can the Racers.
Cofer learned after the game that his father died and he broke into tears. Mike Cofer, a former Pro Bowl linebacker with the Detroit Lions, was 58.
--Field Level Media
--Field Level Media