Murray State kept the obligatory No. 12 versus No. 5 seed upset alive in the NCAA tournament on Thursday as Ja Morant led the Racers with 17 points, 16 assists, and 11 rebounds in an 83-64 victory over Marquette at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut.

All season long the sophomore point guard had been mentioned as a probable top-three pick in this summer’s NBA draft, but Thursday was the first time the nation got a chance to see him on the big stage.

Morant exceeded the hype, as he notched his third triple-double of the season and the 17th in NCAA tournament history. It was the first time a player had accomplished the feat since Michigan State’s Draymond Green did it in 2012.

Whether it was a step-back 3-pointer to end the first half, or a nasty two-handed dunk over a Marquette defender, Morant gave fans and scouts everything they needed to see as he scored or assisted through 53 of the Racers 83 points.

After leading 42-35 at halftime, Murray State cruised through the second half and started bleeding the clock with a 20-point lead and five minutes left.

It was the second consecutive season that the Racers found themselves in a No. 5 versus No. 12 game in the NCAA tournament. Last year, Murray State lost, 85-68, to West Virginia in the first round, as Morant was held to just 14 points.

“I would say last year was our first time so guys are happy to be there,” Murray State’s Shaq Buchanan said before the game. “But this year with me and Ja and Brion (Sanchious), we have the focus that we can go far in this tournament. We have the team to do it.”

This year marked the 17th NCAA tournament appearance for Murray State, and the Racers now have four first-round victories under their belt, beating North Carolina State in 1988, Vanderbilt in 2010, Colorado State in 2012, and now Marquette.

Tevin Brown led Murray State in scoring with 19 points, while KJ Williams had 16 and Buchanan 14.

The game was billed as a showcase of two of the nation’s best point guards and Morant and Markus Howard delivered plenty of highlights. Howard scored 16 in the first half on a mix of 3s off screens and hard drives to the hoop.

Marquette promised to make Morant see walls of defenders. The Golden Eagles collapsed on Morant every time he went to the basket and often double-teamed on the perimeter instead of switching on screens. Time and again, Morant found an open shooter while surrounded by defenders. He had eight assists in the first half, five that led to 3-pointers for the Racers, who led 42-35 at the break.

Howard finished with 26 points and Sam Hauser added 16.

As Murray State pulled away early in the second half, Morant had a two-handed slam off a nifty bounce pass from Darnell Cowart. Moments later, Morant fired a cross-court, no-look pass to Shaq Buchanan for a corner 3 that made it 57-40. Morant paused to glance toward the Murray State section and made finger goggles around his eyes.

The sophomore seems to see it all on the court.

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