Murray State, which won the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament for a second straight season in 2019, was awarded a No. 12 seed and will face No. 5 seed Marquette in its NCAA Tournament opener on Thursday in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Racers (27-4) will be making their 17th overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They defeated Belmont 77-65 in the conference tournament finals to earn the OVC’s automatic bid.
Star point guard Ja Morant, a 6-foot-3 sophomore from Dalzell, S.C., led the way with 36 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the league’s title game in Evansville.
Murray State, the first team to lock up an NCAA spot, will have had quite a long wait ahead of its opening game.
“It’s really challenging being the first team in,” Coach Matt McMahon said on March 9 after the win over Belmont. “We’ll look at how we did things last year. ... It’s a long stretch, so you have to find the right mix and balance of keeping these guys fresh and healthy, but also in game condition.”
Morant, considered a strong possibility to be the second pick behind Duke’s Zion Williamson in the upcoming NBA Draft, has averaged 24.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 10.0 assists this season.
“It’s really what we worked all year for,” Morant said of the Racers winning the OVC title game and earning the NCAA bid. “Just to see it all pay off feels good.”
Shaq Buchanan, a 6-3 senior guard, is second on the team in scoring with 13.0 points. Tevin Brown, a 6-5 freshman guard, is next with 11.7 points and Darnell Cowart, a 6-8 junior forward, averages 10.4 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds.
Murray State faced fifth-seeded West Virginia in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Morant had 14 points, three rebounds, two assists and three blocks in an 85-68 loss to the Mountaineers.
The Racers suffered only two defeats during the non-conference portion of their schedule in 2018-19, falling to Southeastern Conference foes Alabama, 78-72, and Auburn, 93-88. Murray State’s only other two losses came during conference play, 79-66 to regular-season OVC co-champion Belmont, and 88-68 at Jacksonville State.
Murray State avenged both of their OVC losses during the league tournament and enters NCAA play having won 11 games in a row.
No. 12 seed Murray State vs. No. 5 seed Marquette
When: About 4:40 p.m. Thursday
Where: Hartford, Conn.