One of the best seasons in recent memory keeps getting better for the Kansas State men’s basketball team.
No. 3 seed K-State defeated No. 14 seed Montana State 77-65 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday at Greensboro Coliseum, which means the Wildcats are moving on to the Round of 32 for the first time in five years and just the second time since 2012.
Head coach Jerome Tang continues to exceed expectations in every way possible.
“We all feel great about it,” sophomore guard Cam Carter said. “This is really just a dream come true. The final buzzer went off and everyone was celebrating. It’s a big deal.”
K-State beat Montana State thanks to 17 points and 14 assists from Markquis Nowell to go along with 18 points and eight rebounds from Keyontae Johnson.
It was arguably one of K-State’s most complete efforts of the entire season.
“You’ve seen us play like that all year, just in spurts,” Nowell said. “If we can continue to keep building on that and continue to keep playing this way, we will make a deep tournament run.”
The Wildcats can try to do exactly that when they next play No. 6 seed Kentucky at 1:40 p.m. on Sunday with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.
Until then, here are five takeaways from Friday night’s action:
Markquis Nowell led the Wildcats to victory
You couldn’t have asked for much more from Markquis Nowell while playing in his first NCAA Tournament game.
The senior point guard did it all for K-State and finished with 17 points, 14 assists and six rebounds.
Whenever he flirts with a triple double and limits his turnovers the Wildcats are usually hard to beat and that was once again the case on Friday.
He saw the floor well and created many scoring opportunities for his teammates by driving to the basket and then kicking the ball out to shooters. It wouldn’t have been hard for him to finish with a handful more assists had the Wildcats made a few more open looks.
Still, he matched his career high for assists and set a new school record for assists in a NCAA Tournament game.
“I wanted to make a big emphasis of getting my teammates involved,” Nowell said. “So when they got open I got them ball. My teammates did a hell of a job finishing. I give them a lot of credit for that.”
College basketball players can be wildly unpredictable when they make their debut in March Madness. Some of them are fearless and bring their “A” game. Some of them are nervous and don’t perform particularly well.
There was no debate with Nowell. He was ready to play and gave the Wildcats his best effort.
K-State gets a big boost from supporting cast
Hello, Cam Carter. Nice to see you, Nae’Qwan Tomlin.
Both of those K-State starters came through with nice stat lines for the Wildcats in a must-win situation.
Carter, a sophomore guard, finished with eight points while Tomlin, a junior forward, had 13 points.
Each of those players have been quiet at times this year for the Wildcats, but that was not the case against Montana State.
Carter drained an early three-pointer and stayed aggressive with some driving layups later in the game. Tomlin didn’t play much in the first half with foul trouble but then erupted for plenty of points in the second half.
Montana State had no answer for him.
The Wildcats are at their best when role players step up and take pressure off their star players. Carter and Tomlin both did some heavy lifting.
Foul trouble helps K-State for a change
The last time Kansas State was in the NCAA Tournament it suffered a heartbreaking loss to UC-Irvine in large part because Barry Brown picked up two early fouls and spent much of the first half on the bench.
Montana State could relate to that situation on Friday night.
The Wildcats’ first-round opponent had to spend the final six minutes of the first half with RaeQuan Battle on the bench in foul trouble. That was a bummer for both him and the Bobcats, as he scored 13 early points and was controlling the game. Then he went to the sideline and K-State found a small amount of separation.
K-State led by as many as nine in the final minute of the first half and took a 34-28 lead into the break. After trading punches with Montana State in the early going, it started getting stops on defense without Battle on the floor. Battle finished with a game-high 26 points.
Foul trouble was also an issue for K-State in the first half, as Nae’Qwan Tomlin earned a pair of early fouls and only logged five minutes before halftime. But Jerome Tang managed that situation well by using David N’Guessan, Abayomi Iyiola and Ismael Massoud in a rotation of big men.
Key stat of the game
After committing 20 turnovers in each of their past two games, and suffering a pair of losses at the end of the regular season, limiting giveaways was of the utmost important for the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament.
K-State only has a record of 1-5 when it loses 19 or more turnovers this season. That simply could not happen again against Montana State if the Wildcats hoped to advance beyond the first round of this event.
Mission accomplished. K-State only lost 14 turnovers and that was a big reason why it won by a comfortable margin.
The Wildcats dominated in the paint
K-State isn’t known as a big team. It lacks a true center and starts a small lineup that consists of three guards, one wing and one forward. But that didn’t stop the Wildcats from owning the paint against the Bobcats.
They hammered the ball inside early and often on their way to 48 points in the paint, while Montana State only had 30.
One team was from the Big 12. The other was from the Big Sky. There was no mystery about which squad was bigger and stronger.
This story was originally published March 18, 2023, 12:17 AM.