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.
IN THEIR WORDS
Head Coach Jerome Tang
On the game…
“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. 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.”
On dominating the paint…
“You know, we’ve been a paint point team all year long. It’s just something that is an emphasis for us. Whether we get there by the dribble or the pass, it’s just something that is a point of emphasis for us.”
On lessons learned as an assistant coach in the NCAA Tournament to now being the head coach…
“Well, first of all, that winning is hard. The hardest game to win is that first one. Not that any one gets easier, but it just doesn’t get any harder as far as how many days you have to prepare for it. As you saw, Montana State did a great job of preparing. They caused us problems. What they did defensively, denying Markquis the ball. The other thing is that you can’t look at the whole bracket. We just look at one game. We forget about everybody else. You know, I’ve been a part of two consecutive years where we were the higher seed and lost. One on the buzzer beater, and another one that Yale pretty much took it to us. So, the seeding doesn’t matter. It’s about that 40 minutes because the ball doesn’t know seed numbers. It just knows hoopers. You’ve got to go get it.”
On what pleased him the most in tonight’s win…
“Well, you know, defensively the fact that we knew that for them to win, they had to make threes or shoot twos at a really, really high rate. I felt like we did a really good job of making it tough on them. The other thing is that they have for the season they made more free-throws than their opponents attempted, and so keeping them off the free-throw line was important to us, and we did a really good job of that. Then for the most part we took care of the ball. You know, and our positive assist-to-turnover ratio gave us this opportunity.”
Senior Markquis Nowell
On the emotions of the first NCAA Tournament win…
“Today was a blessing. I mean, we all have fun out there. It was a joy to be a part of that, but winning is even better when you get to do that. Give credit to my teammates. Everybody contributed from the starters to the bench. We had big-time minutes from David, Tykei, Cam. You know, the people that’s not up here also contributed and played well today, so we’ve got to show them some love too.”
On his performance…
“It’s a blessing to tie my career high, but I have to give credit to my teammates for getting open and finishing the plays. It was just a well-executed ball game and game plan that the coaching staff came up with, and the players, we executed it. I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates.”
On dominating the paint…
“It’s the big emphasis on getting to the paint. When you get to the paint, it draws so much attention, and we have dynamic players, dynamic guards that can get to the paint and create for each other. You just saw it today. When we play together and for each other, we’re a really good team.”
Senior Keyontae Johnson
On the emotions of the first NCAA Tournament win…
“It’s big. A lot of us on the team haven’t made it to the tournament yet, so we always preach just enjoy the moment, and we just try to go out there and have fun.”
On Markquis Nowell as a point guard…
“Markquis, he is an excellent point guard. To me he could shoot, create for himself, and he sees the court at a high rate. When we get out on a fastbreak, he sees you, we are locked in and do what he executes. To have a point guard like that is a blessing really.”
Junior Nae’Qwan Tomlin
On his performance…
“I want to thank my teammates. They tried to keep me level-head and tried to keep my head up because when I get in foul trouble, I get down on myself. So, they just try to, like, second half it’s going to be your half. You’re going to play smart. Try to stay out of foul trouble. This is definitely a dream come true, though.”
BEYOND THE BOXSCORE
- K-State earned its first NCAA Tournament win under head coach Jerome Tang and the first since 2018 with a 77-65 victory over Montana State.
- K-State is now 38-35 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including 12-6 in the first round and 4-4 in the East Regional… It was the first win as a No. 3 seed.
- The 24 wins by Tang are the second-most by first-year head coach in school history, trailing the 27 by Bruce Weber in 2012-13.
- K-State is now 3-1 all-time vs. Montana State, including 3 straight wins.
- K-State scored its 77 points on 58.2 percent (32-of-55) shooting, including 26.7 percent (4-of-15) from 3-point range, while connecting on 75 percent (9-of-12) from 3-point range.
- The 58.2 field goal percentage is the fifth-highest in an NCAA Tournament game in school history and the highest since hitting on a school-record 66 percent (31-of-47) against Wake Forest in the First Four on March 17, 2017… The Wildcats hit on 51.7 percent (15-of-29) in the first half, while they made 65.4 percent (17-of-26) of their field goals in the second half… The 65.4 field goal percentage in the second half was the sixth-highest in any half in an NCAA Tournament game in school history.
- K-State has now hit on 50 percent or better from the field in 9 games.
- K-State tied the school record for assists (21) in an NCAA Tournament game, matching the total set vs. Louisville on March 8, 1980, and vs. Arkansas on March 14, 1982… It marked the 12th time this season that the Wildcats have dished out 20 or more assists.
- K-State scored 48 of its 77 points in the paint, which marked the 12th time this season when 40 or more points in the paint.
- K-State held a slight 29-27 advantage on the glass, including 6 offensive rebounds… The Wildcats are now 14-4 when winning the rebounding battle.
- K-State scored 12 points off 16 Montana State turnovers, while the Bobcats scored 11 off 14 Wildcats turnovers… The team is now 18-2 when having equal or less turnovers than its opponents.
- K-State led 34-28 at the half on the strength of a late 11-4 run… Seniors Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell each scored 10 points, while Nowell dished out 7 assists.
- K-State is now 14-2 this season when leading at the half.
- Four Wildcats scored in double figures, including a team-best 18 points from senior Keyontae Johnson.
- Johnson scored his 18 points on 8-of-15 field goals and 2-of-2 free throws to go with a game-high 8 rebounds and 3 assists in nearly 39 minutes… He has now led the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding in 7 games… He has now scored in double figures in 70 career games, including 32 of 33 game this season.
- Senior Markquis Nowell scored 17 points on 7-of-12 field goals, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range, to go with a career-tying 14 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals in 37 minutes… He has now scored in double figures in 96 career games in college, including 49 in his K-State career and 30 this season.
- His 14 assists not only tied a career-high, but were also the most by a Wildcat in an NCAA Tournament game, surpassing the 12 by Steve Henson vs. Purdue on March 25, 1988… They also tied the 14 he had at Baylor on Jan. 7, which tie for the second-most in any game in school history… They also tied for the ninth-most by any player in an NCAA Tournament game… He now has 9 double-digit assist games this season, including 12 in his K-State career.
- Nowell now has 16 career points/assists double-doubles, including 11 in his K-State career and 8 this season… He continues his school-record for both career and single-season double-doubles.
- Junior Nae’Qwan Tomlin scored his 13 points on 6-of-9 field goals and 1-of-1 free throws to go with 1 rebound and 1 steal in 20 minutes… He has now scored in double figures in 18 games.
- Junior David N’Guessan scored his 10 points on 4-of-7 field goals and 2-of-3 free throw sto gow tih 2 rebounds and 2 steals in nearly 19 minutes off the bench… He has now scored in double figures in 10 career games, including 6 this season.
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.