Marquette selected as No. 9 seed, faces North Carolina in NCAA Tournament

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Marquette men’s basketball at its NCAA Tournament selection watch party at the Mecca March 13. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

For the first time in three-years, the Marquette men’s basketball team heard its name called on Selection Sunday.

At its selection show watch party at the Mecca Sports Bar, the Golden Eagles found out they earned an at-large bid in the 2022 NCAA Tournament and will face North Carolina in the first round March 17 at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Golden Eagles are the No. 9 seed in the East Region while the Tar Heels are the No. 8 seed. Thursday’s tip-off will be announced later this evening.

“I’m just excited for our guys,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “We woke up this morning and we said we’re grateful and motivated. Grateful to be in this situation of being in the NCAA Tournament and motivated to play our best basketball. We obviously one if not the best program in (the) history of college basketball. It’s exciting for our guys to get a chance to be a part of it.”

Marquette is coming off a 74-63 loss to Creighton in the BIG EAST Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. Despite just trailing 29-26 at halftime, the Bluejays defense poised too many struggles for the Golden Eagles on the afternoon.

Darryl Morsell led the Marquette with 18 points, a steal, a block, a rebound and an assist. Justin Lewis followed with 17 points, seven rebounds, two steals and a block.

As this season has been consisted of many firsts for the Golden Eagles, with nine newcomers to the roster, Smart said he hopes getting the experience of the postseason at The Garden will now help his team in the NCAA’s.

“More than anything, (it) can give us a reminder of what we need to do to be at our best because weren’t at our best in that game and that’s all of us,” Smart said. “It’s March, it’s postseason, it’s the NCAA Tournament but nothing’s changed from the standpoint of the things that go into winning, that go into creating success on the court and so it’s on us to be our best with that.”

Morsell said his message he has given to the team since Thursday’s loss is “try our best to be connected for 40 minutes.”

“In the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to be a lot of good teams so to advance we got to have long stretches for the whole game and connected for a whole 40 minutes instead of nine or 10 (minutes),” Morsell said.

The Tar Heels finished second in the Atlantic Athletic Conference with an overall record of 24-9. Historically, North Carolina has served as a strong offensive rebounding team giving its opponents a challenge. This season, North Carolina finished first in the ACC with 39.8 rebounds per game.

“It’s something that’s always been a strength for North Carolina’s over the year’s,” Smart said. “We’re going to eat our wheaties, we’re gonna have to rebound as a group of five guys together. But again, it’s about our guys being connected around one common cause and play for each other. If we do that, we give ourselves a good chance.”

Of Marquette’s 13 players, only Morsell and Kur Kuath have experience of playing in a NCAA Tournament game during their days at Maryland and Oklahoma respectively. Meanwhile, Greg Elliott and Olivier-Maxence Prosper have gone to the big dance.

“We’ve been leaning on Kur, Darryl and Greg all year long as the older guys on the team for leadership, so this is no different,” Smart said. “Those guys know what it takes to advance in the NCAA tournament. They (Morsell and Kuath) both played and won in the first round of the NCAA tournament.”

Brookfield native David Joplin is one of 11 Golden Eagles who will be experiencing their first trip to the NCAA Tournament.

“Marquette wasn’t always as good when I watch so it is kind of our turn to take us to a new level,” Joplin said. “Playing a historic team like North Carolina first is going to be great. I’m happy for me, my teammates and for my city.”

Come Thursday Smart, who is he 10th head coach to take Marquette to the NCAA tournament, will lead his third program to the NCAA Tournament. He said the goal heading into Thursday’s matchup is simple.

“Just focusing on one game, being the best we can be and let the chips fall where they may,” Smart said.

This article was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at john.leuzzi@marquette.edu or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU.