Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell set the NCAA men’s tournament record for assists in a single game Thursday night at 19 in a thrilling 98-93 overtime win over Michigan State in the sweet 16.
Nowell tied Mark Wade’s record with his 18th assist in a ridiculous lob on a lob against Keyontae Johnson with less than a minute left in overtime to put K-State 94-92 ahead.
After a Michigan State free throw cut Kansas State’s lead to one, a deep 3-point try by Nowell was narrowly overturned by MSU’s AJ Hoggard. The ball missed the rim and rebounded when KSU saved the ball with 17 seconds left.
That set up an Ismael Massoud jumper from a Nowell inbounds pass to break the record and extend Kansas State’s lead to three. Michigan State had one last chance to tie the game but didn’t get a shot before Nowell got away with the ball and scored on the buzzer.
Nowell scored 20 points and also grabbed five steals in a feat that will go down in NCAA tournament lore. He played limping for much of the second half after twisting his right ankle just minutes after halftime.
Nowell had dominated the first half with five points and 10 assists. He played every minute of the first 20 and engineered K-State’s offense to perfection.
Kansas State had a four-point lead when Nowell left the game, and Michigan State quickly moved forward with him on the sidelines. Nowell ended up missing less than three minutes of play before returning at the second-half 13-11 mark, but when he did, Michigan State held a 54-52 lead.
It was clear that Nowell wasn’t 100% even after his return to the pitch. Somehow he did an incredible bank shot 3 pointer as the shot clock ran out after re-entering the game and then hopped down the court. But then the adrenaline must have kicked in as he kept looking better and better as the game progressed.
Best game of the tournament so far
It’s not hard to say what happened Thursday night at Madison Square Garden could end up being the game of the tournament. There were 14 draws and 16 lead changes as the two teams tied for nine of the game’s 45 minutes.
Kansas State led with 4:45 to go with seven before Michigan State found its way back at the end of regulation. Jaden Akins cut Kansas State’s lead to two by 1:35 before Nowell responded with a basket of his own.
MSU then got two back-to-back baskets from Malik Hall and Tyson Walker in the last minute to push the game into overtime. Nowell drove the ball down the court and glimpsed a layup on the buzzer but missed.
The teams then traded the lead in overtime. Michigan State led 92-90 with 1:47 to go before Nae’Qwan Tomlin hit two free throws to level the game.
Johnson’s dunk gave Kansas State a definitive lead with 52 seconds left. It came after Nowell appeared to be in an animated discussion with coach Jerome Tang over which game should go. Nowell threw the ball to a cutting Johnson for the open dunk right after the call concluded.
The dunk was also very familiar to Kansas State fans. Johnson secured a home win over Kansas earlier in the season with a similar game.
Kansas State’s remarkable season
The Wildcats are in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2018 with the win to extend a season that exceeded all previous season expectations.
Kansas State was picked last for the Big 12 in the preseason media poll after just 13 conference wins in the last three seasons under former coach Bruce Weber. The Wildcats had a new coach in Tang, a former Baylor assistant, and also lost top scorer Nijel Pack to the transfer portal.
But Nowell stayed for another season, having averaged 12.4 points and five assists per game in his first season after moving from Arkansas-Little Rock. So has Massoud, a player who has become an important banker. Tang added Johnson along with Desi Sills and Tomlin via the transfer portal, and Kansas State was immediately better than expected.
K-State won 11 Big 12 games this season and finished third in what is arguably the toughest conference in college basketball, as both Johnson and Nowell averaged over 17 points per game.
The Big Ten are completely out of the NCAA tournament
The Big Ten had the most teams in the NCAA tournament of any conference with eight. And all eight of those teams are now eliminated from the tournament following Michigan State’s loss.
However, the Spartans are not the underachievers. Michigan State No. 7 defeated No. 2 seed Marquette in the second round before giving Kansas State No. 3 all she could handle. Hoggard had 25 points, Joey Hauser 18 and Tyson Walker 16.
Instead, the Big Ten’s tournament disappointment is more a product of Purdue’s shocking irritation against Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round of the tournament and the lack of a quality team behind No. 1-seeded Boilermakers. Indiana was the only other team seeded in the top four, and the Hoosiers lost to No. 5 Miami in the second round. Maryland, Northwestern, and Penn State also lost in the second round, while Iowa and Illinois failed to win a game like Purdue.