The NCAA Tournament is getting its mid-major superstar.
Ja Morant, the likely top-five pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, led Murray State to the Ohio Valley championship on Saturday. The Racers defeated Belmont, 77-65, to earn the nation’s first automatic tournament bid.
Morant finished with 36 points on 13-25 shooting to go with seven rebounds. Tevin Brown added 12 points and nine boards, as Murray State starters scored all but four of the Racers’ points.
It was, in every way, a battle of superstars. Morant and Belmont’s Dylan Windler (17 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) powered their teams down the stretch, trading blows in front of an OVC Tournament-record crowd and a national TV audience on ESPN2.
The dagger came with just under a minute to go when Morant found Tevin Brown for a three from the left wing. That put the Racers up by six, and when the Bruins committed a turnover on the ensuing possession, it all but sealed the victory.
With that, fans are now guaranteed one of the three high-level mid-major scorers in the NCAA Tournament. Chris Clemons (Campbell) and Mike Daum (South Dakota State) both fell in upsets this week and will have to settle for the NIT.
As for Belmont, the Bruins have a good at-large case and will sweat it out for the next eight days before the bracket is revealed. They’ve lost only five times this season and are 2-1 in quadrant one opportunities. They also entered Saturday No. 41 in the NET and the committee will need to take into account that they lost Saturday without the service of Nick Muszynski, who sustained an ankle injury in the semifinals.