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MANHATTAN, Kan. – No. 5/5 Kansas State turned up the defensive pressure, holding Florida to a season-low 50 points on 31 percent shooting, as the Wildcats snapped a 4-game losing streak in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge with a 64-50 victory over the Gators on Saturday night before a sold-out crowd of 11,000 at Bramlage Coliseum.
K-State (18-3, 6-2 Big 12) continued its best start to a season in nearly 50 years, as the Wildcats earned their first win in the Challenge series since a 56-51 win over Georgia at home on Jan. 27, 2018. The team also finished its non-conference season at 12-1, which is the best mark since going 13-1 in 2009-10.
After allowing 80 points on 57 percent shooting in the loss to No. 12/12 Iowa State on Tuesday, K-State set the tone for the game in the first half, playing its best defensive half of the season, as the Wildcats allowed just 16 points to the Gators (12-9, 5-3 SEC) on just 20.7 percent (6-of-29) shooting.
K-State, which never trailed in the contest, took advantage of its top-notch defensive effort to build as much as a 21-point lead in the first half, as the Wildcats ended the half with an 11-0 run. Although Florida opened the second half with a 10-0 run that cut the deficit to 37-26, the lead never dipped below double figures, as K-State put the game away with an 11-1 run that pushed its lead to a game-high 23 points with 5 minutes remaining.
The 50 points tied for an opponent-low, also done in wins over Wichita State and UIW, while it was the lowest field goal percentage by opponent this season.
It was a special night for senior Keyontae Johnson, who recorded his third consecutive double-double, against his former team. He played his first 3 years for the Gators before a medical emergency on Dec. 12, 2020, sidelined him for much of his junior (2020-21) and all of his senior season (2021-22).
“Today it was a special day just seeing my old teammates,” said Johnson. “It was fun out there playing against them. Just felt like practice, joking around throughout the game, but kept being competitive. So, I feel like it was a great experience. I’m glad the Big 12 has the Challenge series and we got to play Florida.”
Johnson finished the night with a game-tying 13 points and game-best 11 rebounds for his 18th career double-double and his fifth of the season. He was among three Wildcats in double figures, along with senior Markquis Nowell (13 points) and junior Nae’Qwan Tomlin (11 points). In all, five players had at least 9 points.
Nowell flirted with the school’s first triple-double, as he collected 13 points, a career-tying 9 rebounds and a game-high 8 assists in 33 minutes of action. Junior Nae’Qwan Tomlin added 11 points and 6 rebounds. Sophomore Cam Carter had all-around solid night with 9 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in nearly 30 minutes.
The return of junior David N’Guessan provided a big boost for the Wildcats, as he returned to the starting lineup for the first time since the Radford game on Dec. 22, 2022. He finished the night with 9 points on 4-of-5 shooting to go with 2 seals and a rebound in 19 minutes.
K-State connected on 37.7 percent (23-of-61) for the game, including 23.5 percent (4-of-17) from 3-point range, while making 66.7 percent (14-of-21) from the free throw line. The Wildcats were able to survive a poor second half, as they hit on just 31 percent (9-of-29), including 22.2 percent (2-of-9).
Florida, which entered the game with wins in 5 of its last 6 games, was led by graduate forward Colin Castleton, who finished with a game-tying 13 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 assists in 34 minutes. Fellow graduate guard Myreon Jones and sophomore transfer Will Richard added 11 points each.
K-State, which helped the Big 12 win the final SEC/Big 12 Challenge, 7-3, finishes with a 4-6 mark in the series, including a 4-1 mark in games played at Bramlage Coliseum.
HOW IT HAPPENED
K-State got off to a quick start, scoring the first 5 points from 3 different players (junior Nae’Qwan Tomlin, sophomore Cam Carter and junior David N’Guessan). The lead stood at 15-6 after Carter hit the Wildcats’ first 3-pointer at the 13:25 mark. It reached double figures at 22-8 after 5 straight points, including a dunk that forced Florida head Todd Golden to call his first timeout with 8:09 before halftime.
The Gators closed to within on 26-16 on a 3-pointer by graduate Myreon Jones with 5:30 to play but the Wildcats responded with 11-0 run to end the half. The run included baskets by senior Keyontae Johnson, N’Guessan, senior Markquis Nowell and 4 points by Tomlin that extended the lead to 37-16.
Florida opened the second half with 10 consecutive points to close the deficit to 37-26, right before first media timeout with just over 16 minutes to play. Nowell ended the drought with a little floater to push the lead back out to 13, as the teams traded baskets over the next few minutes. Twice, the Wildcats extended the lead to 16, first on a 3-pointer by Nowell at the 12:11 mark then on 2 free throws by junior Ishmael Massoud with 11:33 to play.
After a 3-point play by the Gators cut the deficit to 48-35 with just under 11 minutes remaining, the Wildcats responded with an 11-1 run to push the lead back out to 59-36 and force another timeout by Golden with 4:56 left. Four different players scored in the pivotal 11-1 run, including 4 points by Johnson, a 3-pointer by Massoud and buckets by Tomlin and Carter.
Florida was able to cut the deficit in the final minutes, outscoring K-State, 14-5, for the final 64-50 margin.
PLAYER(S) OF THE GAME
Senior Markquis Nowell nearly had a triple-double with a game-tying 13 points on 4-of-9 field goals, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range, and 3-of-5 free throws to go with a career-tying 9 rebounds and game-high 8 assists in 33 minutes. It was his most rebounds as a Wildcat.
Senior Keyontae Johnson tallied his third consecutive double-double with a team-high 13 points on 5-of-16 field goals to go with a game-high 11 rebounds in 34 minutes. It was his 18th career double-double, including his fifth season. He has now scored in double figures in all 21 games.
IN THEIR WORDS
Head coach Jerome Tang
On the game…
“First of all, I want to thank God for this opportunity. I don’t have enough words to describe the thankfulness for our fans. Like, that was ridiculous out there. I couldn’t even talk in the huddles at times because it was so loud and to have that kind of support behind you and the energy that they bring it’s just incredible. I was proud of our guys that we locked in. Coach [Kevin] Sutton did a great job with the scout report. (Associate head coach) Ulric [Maligi] and (assistant coach) Jareem [Dowling] came up with an excellent plan defensively. We needed to improve our rebounding, I thought we did a better job. Part of that was the scheme and part of it was David [N’Guessan] playing. He just brings so much to the table. It’s tough to play on another team’s home court, it’s just tough for those guys to travel and come play. They had won five of six games and were playing at a high level, so I was very proud of how our guys responded.”
On his conversations with Keyontae [Johnson] leading up to the game..
“I just checked with him over the last few days and asked him how he was doing and what his thoughts were. I gave him a chance to talk, and I thought he handled that well. There’s nothing that could prepare him for seeing Duke [Dave Werner] again, the trainer, so that was special, that embrace at the end of the game.”
On Keyontae’s journey…
“It was really cool as a fan. I wanted to see him have a good game. I wanted him to get the win, I think our team wanted him to get the win. We knew it was important to him, even though he didn’t make a big deal out of it.”
On sharing a moment with a Florida staff member after the game…
“That was Duke [Dave Werner], the trainer at Florida who took care of Keyontae. He helped us in the recruiting process and gave us information as we were helping to get Keyontae back. Duke’s just a terrific guy. Keyontae loves him and I just wanted to give him a hug and thank him.”
Senior Keyontae Johnson
On what playing his old team was like…
“Today was, I mean it was a special day just seeing my old teammates. It was fun out there playing against them. Just felt like practice, joking around throughout the game, but kept being competitive. So, I feel like it was a great experience. I’m glad the Big 12 has the Challenge series and we got to play Florida.”
On missing the windmill dunk attempt…
“I had a real first fast break, and I just knew I was gonna do it in my head but when I tried to jump, I didn’t dribble. When I tried to jump, my right foot slipped and at that moment I knew I couldn’t do a windmill layup, so I just tried to go for the dunk, and I missed it.”
On his thoughts of playing Florida…
“I knew we were playing them when I committed here, that was like the first thing the coaches told me. I was definitely looking forward to it, just seeing the athletic trainer Duke [Dave Werner]. He’s one of the main people that saved my life on the court so just seeing him on the bench and talking to him after the game just helped brighten my day. I don’t think this day could have been any worse even if I played bad or played a good game. Just seeing the people that cared for me at Florida and them just showing how much love they have for me.”
Junior David N’Guessan
On getting to play more in the game today…
“I mean, first of all, I just want to say I am truly thankful to my coaching staff. My teammates, my trainer Luke (Sauber) and (student trainer) Andrew (Clark), they were just there for me a lot even though I was hurt and disappointed. They kept helping me, working my ankle, doing my exercises, make sure I was on top of that. Besides that, I’m just happy to be back, felt good. I got a little tired after the first couple minutes, but you know, just happy to be back.”
On his recovery over the past couple of weeks…
“I was in a boot so I couldn’t do as much running, but besides that, I was trying to do the skier and I was on the bike. All conditioning things where you don’t need your legs basically. Besides that, I’ve just been spending a whole lot of time with my weight coach and athletic trainers. I really appreciate them for the amount of time they spent with me here and on the road.”
BEYOND THE BOXSCORE
- K-State is now 18-3 on the season, equaling the best start since 1972-73.
- K-State snapped a 4-game losing streak in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, earning its first win since a 56-51 win over Georgia on Jan. 27, 2018… The Wildcats finish with a 4-6 record in the series, including 4-1 at home.
- K-State finishes its non-conference record at 12-1, which is the best mark since going 13-1 in 2009-10… The 12 non-conference wins tie the 2008-09 and 2010-11 teams for the second-most, just behind the school-record 13 in 2009-10.
- K-State is now 12-0 in home games, including 11-0 at Bramlage Coliseum.
- K-State held Florida to a season-low 50 points on 31.0 percent shooting (18-of-58), including 18.2 percent (4-of-22), while forcing 14 turnovers with 10 steals… The 50 points tied for an opponent-low (also done vs. Wichita State and UIW), while it was the lowest field goal percentage by an opponent.
- K-State scored its 64 points on 37.7 percent shooting (23-of-61), including 23.5 percent (4-of-17) from 3-point range, and connected on 66.7 percent (14-of-21) from the free throw line.
- K-State had 15 assists on 23 made field goals.
- K-State registered 10 steals, which marked the sixth time this season with double-digit steals.
- K-State led 37-16 at half behind an 11-0 run to end the half… 22 of the Wildcats’ 37 points came in the paint on 43.8 percent (14-of-32) shooting… Five players had at least 2 made field goals, including 9 points each from junior David N’Guessan and Nae’Qwan Tomlin… Senior Markquis Nowell had 8 assists.
- K-State is now 11-1 this season when leading at the half.
- Senior Markquis Nowell near pulled off the school’s first triple-double, scoring 13 points on 4-of-9 field goals, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range, and 3-of-5 free throws, to go with a career-tying 9 rebounds and 8 assists (along with 2 steals) in 33 minutes… The 9 rebounds are the most he has had in his Wildcat career… He has now scored in double figures in 84 career games, including 37 at K-State.
- Nowell now has at least 5 assists in 18 of 21 games this season, while he has at least 2 steals in 15 games.
- Senior Keyontae Johnson registered his 18th career double-double, including his fifth this season, with his 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds to go with 2 steals in 34 minutes… He now has a double-double in 3 consecutive games… He has 59 career double-digit scoring games, including all 21 games in 2022-23.
- Junior Nae’Qwan Tomlin scored 11 points on 4-of-11 field goals and 3-of-4 free throws to go with 6 rebounds and 1 assist in 24 minutes… He has now scored in double figures in 12 games.
- Junior David N’Guessan returned to the starting lineup for the first time since the Radford game on Dec. 22, 2022… He finished the night with 9 points on 4-of-5 field goals with 2 steals in 19 minutes.
- Sophomore Cam Carter had perhaps his best all-around game, scoring 9 points on 4-of-7 field goals, including 1-of-3 from 3-point range, to go with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in nearly 30 minutes… The 4 assists were a season-high, while he tied his season-high in steals for the fifth time.
- Junior Ishmael Massoud grabbed a season-high 6 rebounds in 21 minutes to go with 5 points.
K-State begins the second half of Big 12 play on Tuesday night, as the Wildcats travel to Lawrence, Kan., to take No. 9/9 Kansas (17-4, 5-3 Big 12) in the Dillons Sunflower Showdown at 7 p.m., CT.
How to follow the ‘Cats: For complete information on K-State men’s basketball, visit www.kstatesports.com and follow the team’s social media channels on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.