GREENSBORO, N.C. – Hot shooting carried 3-seed Kansas State to its first NCAA Tournament win under head coach Jerome Tang and its first overall since 2018, as the Wildcats connected on 58.2 percent from the field en route to earning a 77-65 victory over 14-seed Montana State in the first round of the East Regional on Friday night before 17,150 fans at the Greensboro Coliseum.
K-State (24-9) now advances to play 6-seed Kentucky (22-11) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday afternoon at 1:40 p.m., CT/2:40 p.m., ET on CBS. The SEC’s Wildcats defeated 11-seed Providence, 61-53, in the first game of the evening session. It will be the fourth meeting between the schools in the NCAA Tournament following games in 1951, 2014 and 2018.
“This is the best time of year for college basketball, and to be able to be a part of this and to get a win, you know, we never are going to take for granted winning,” said Tang. “It’s just so hard to do. As you look across the (NCAA) Tournament, you see the upsets. So, we’re just super thankful that we get to be together for another day and they get to hear me yell at them.”
It was an impressive all-around offensive performance for the Wildcats, who posted the fifth-highest field goal percentage (58.2/32-of-55) in an NCAA Tournament game in school history and the highest since the 2017 First Four. The team hit on 51.7 percent (15-of-29) in the first half before connecting on 65.4 percent (17-of-26) after halftime. They also tied the school record for assists (21) in an NCAA Tournament game.
Four Wildcats scored in double figures led by 18 points from senior Keyontae Johnson, who went 8-of-15 from the field with a team-high 8 rebounds and 3 assists in nearly 39 minutes. It marked the seventh time this season that he has led the team in both scoring and rebounding, while he has posted double figures in 32 of 33 games.
Fellow senior Markquis Nowell dished out a career-tying 14 assists to go with 17 points on 7-of-12 field goals, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range, while adding 6 rebounds and 3 steals in 37 minutes. The 14 assists not only broke the school record for most by a Wildcat in a NCAA Tournament, surpassing the 12 by Steve Henson against Purdue on March 25, 1998, they also tied for the ninth-most by any player in an NCAA Tournament game.
It was Nowell’s 16th career double-double, including the 11th in his K-State career and his eighth this season. He continues to own the school records for both career and single season points/assists double-doubles.
The senior duo was joined in double figures by juniors Nae’Qwan Tomlin and David N’Guessan, who finished with 13 and 10 points, respectively. Sophomore Cam Carter scored 8 points on his birthday and senior Desi Sills added 7 points, as the Wildcats moved to 13-1 this season when six or more players have 6 or more points.
K-State used an 11-4 run late in the first half to break open a tight contest and build a 9-point lead with 52 seconds before halftime. After the Bobcats (25-10) closed to within 34-28 at the break, the Wildcats scored 10 of the first 16 points to open the second half to extend the lead to double figures with just 15 minutes to play. Although MSU closed to within 8 points several times in the second half, K-State responded each time with a big shot, including a dunk by Sills with just under 2 minutes to play that extended the lead to a game-high 16 points.
Montana State, which saw its 8-game winning streak snapped, was led by junior RaeQwan Battle who led all scorers with a game-high 26 points on 9-of-17 field goals, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range. Junior point guard Darius Brown II had a near double-double with 12 points and 9 assists, while sophomore Great Osobor also scored 12 points while grabbing a team-high 7 rebounds.
K-State snapped a 2-game losing streak in NCAA Tournament play.
HOW IT HAPPENED
K-State had the early momentum, jumping out to a 7-2 advantage which was capped by a corner 3-pointer by senior Markquis Nowell. However, Montana State responded with a 6-0 run to take its first lead at 8-7. Moments after sophomore Cam Carter knocked down a 3-pointer, senior RaeQuan Battle converted on a 4-point play to give the Bobcats a 12-10 advantage at the first media timeout at the 13:41 mark.
A layup from senior Abayomi Iyiola knotted the game at 12-all, as the teams’ traded baskets over the next few minutes before back-to-back baskets by junior David N’Guessan and Nowell gave K-State a 20-16 lead. From there, the Wildcats slowly built the lead, pushing ahead 34-25 a 6-0 run that was capped by a layup by Nowell with 52 seconds to force a timeout by the Bobcats. The timeout worked, as they were able to cut the deficit to 34-28 at the half on a bucket by graduate Darius Brown II and free throw by gradate Robert Ford III.
The Wildcats opened the second half with a layup from junior Nae’Qwan Tomlin then after back-to-back baskets from the Bobcats, a Nowell floater started a 6-0 run that extended the lead to 42-32 to force a timeout by head coach Danny Sprinkle with 16:28 remaining.
K-State extended its lead to 56-43 on a 3-pointer by Nowell and a layup by Tomlin with 7:31 to play. MSU got to within 8 points on five occasions over the next few minutes, but each time the Wildcats had an answer. After the Bobcats closed to within 67-58 with 2:47 remaining after a 3-pointer by Brown, the team responded with 8 straight points, including dunks by Tomlin and senior Desi Sills, to push the lead to 16 points with less than 2 minutes left.
K-State (24-9) will play Kentucky (22-11) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday afternoon at 1:40 p.m., CT/2:40 p.m., ET on CBS at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. It will be the fourth meeting with Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament following games in 1951, 2014, 2018.