Murray State blew out Eastern Illinois on Thursday, 83-61, and improved to a 5-0 start to Ohio Valley Conference play in the process. And while I am 99.9 percent sure that virtually all living sports fans could not possibly care less about that result, I am equally confident that you will love watching Murray State point guard Ja Morant, a mere 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, brutally punishing the rim after torching an Eastern Illinois defender:
This, all of this, is the Ja Morant experience. One of the coolest players in college basketball plays in a one-bid conference full of midwestern directional schools. He’s just dazzling enough to make it all worth caring about.
Morant had 27 points and nine assists in the win, which is actually a little below his season average. His 10.6 dimes per game leads division one by a laughable margin; the next most anyone has is 8.2. If Morant keeps it up, it’ll be an unprecedented season in college basketball—the first time anyone’s averaged over 20 points and 10 assists per game since they started keeping track of the latter stat. (His 5.1 turnovers per game obviously need to come down, but in fairness that’s more-or-less to be expected when a guy is trying to do it all.)
Despite playing a massive 93.4 percent of his team’s minutes and using 35 percent of possessions, Morant has stayed remarkably efficient on the court, with an eFG% of 59.1. He’s shooting a decent 76.8 percent from the foul line, and a great 61.7 percent from two, and while his three-pointer is still developing, he’s respectably up over 35 percent on 65 attempts so far this year. As an athletic scorer and ball-handler who is capable of finishing and setting up his teammates with equal gusto, Morant is a treat on par with the best in college basketball. He’s also hidden away on a team that barely ever gets on national TV.
Here, for instance, is his play of the year so far. Morant leaps over a UT Martin defender in a way that can only be described as “Vinsane.” Except Vince Carter wasn’t a dang mid-major point guard:
For dessert, here’s another slam against an honest-to-god SEC team in Alabama, which, yeah, sure, came in the dying seconds of a loss, but still measures on the Richter Scale. Morant had 50 percent usage and scored 38 against the Crimson Tide, and more or less singlehandedly kept the game close. He was the only Racer in double-figures.
I bring this all to your attention not because I believe you really need to devote any of your life to Murray State until probably the first round of the NCAA Tournament, although there are worse ways to spend a couple hours. The better news is that Morant isn’t going to plateau as The Dude With The Dunk Against UT-Martin. The smart people that evaluate basketball players for a living say that he’s no Great White in a koi pond. In fact, he’s projected to be the first point guard selected in next year’s draft, since lottery teams can look at him and dream about having their own version of De’Aaron Fox. You can at least say you knew him back when he was a mere mid-major standout.