Wofford, Murray State aim for big March moment

Wofford, Murray State aim for big March moment

March 23, 2019 8:33 AM


The first teams will earn their spot in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 on Saturday — and the upstarts are right there near the front of the line.

There are eight double-digit seeds left in the field of 32 entering the second round, three of those coming from outside the power conferences: No. 12 seeds Murray State and Liberty, and No. 13 UC Irvine.

And then there’s Wofford, the headliner in a batch of schools aiming to make their own enduring March Madness moment with a marquee matchup against Kentucky.

That game comes Saturday in the Midwest Region, along with Murray State’s date with Florida State in the West bracket in an eight-game schedule. And make no mistake: there’s plenty of belief for a pair of teams that haven’t lost a game in months.

“You don’t want to get out of character and try to do things that you can’t do or do things that you’re uncomfortable doing just to try to show that you can do something,” Wofford guard Fletcher Magee said. “We want to stay within ourselves, play our game, and we feel that if we do that, we can be right there and we can compete with them.”

Murray State (28-4) rolled in its first-round game behind Ja Morant, who had a hello-national-audience performance with 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds in a rout of fifth-seeded Marquette.

That was the Racers’ 12th straight win. They haven’t lost since falling to Jacksonville State on Jan. 31.

Morant (24.4 points, 5.7 rebounds) leads the country with 10.2 assists per game, and the Racers have three other double-figure scorers. The biggest challenge will be handling Florida State’s size and length.

“We know Ja will get all of the attention,” said Shaq Buchanan, averages 13.1 points. “Like, it’s amazing, but at the same time, we know how to handle that. And we know everybody’s going to be keyed in on him (Saturday), so we just going to make plays for him like we did against Marquette.”

As for Wofford, the seventh-seeded Terriers (30-4) have been a popular pick. All four losses came against power-conference teams that made the NCAA Tournament and they have won 21 straight games since falling to Mississippi State on Dec. 19.

The Southern Conference champions, who rolled past Seton Hall in the first round, entered the tournament ranked No. 13 in the NCAA’s new NET rankings — ahead of names like LSU, Auburn and Kansas — after claiming their first AP Top 25 ranking in program history.

Behind Magee’s incredible shot-making ability, the Terriers rank ninth in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency (118.8 points per 100 possessions). They’re facing a second-seeded Kentucky team missing leading scorer and rebounder PJ Washington due to a foot sprain.

“I can’t imagine a team more confident, and that’s earned,” Wofford coach Mike Young said, adding: “They may whip our tail, but it will not be because my kids are scared. They’ll come out ready to fight.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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