Markquis Nowell leads Kansas past Kentucky in Sweet 16

Markquis Nowell wouldn’t let his team lose.

Nowell, the blistering 5-foot-8-point guard for Kansas State, delivered one of the best performances of the NCAA tournament Sunday in Greensboro with a stunning 75-69 win over Kentucky.

Whether he was hitting 3-pointers from the midcourt logo or handing out highlight reel assists to his teammates, Nowell had a counter for every shot Kentucky delivered. He finished the tournament with 27 points, nine assists and three steals to send Kentucky home and put Kansas State in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018.

In a game where his team struggled to make outside jumps, the speedy Nowell was able to penetrate British defenses and navigate between the trees. Even as Kentucky All-American Big Man Oscar Tshiebwe dominated on the glass, Nowell’s ability to get in the paint and attack his teammates held on to Kansas State during an anemic 0-for-12 shooting performance in the first half over water.

K-State’s defense helped, too. Kentucky turned the ball over 11 times in the first half but came out with renewed focus to open the second half. K-State had a 29-26 lead at the break, but Kentucky opened the second half with a 13-0 run. Kentucky, a team struggling at half court on offense, got out on the break and got a lot of easy buckets in the transition.

After K-State took the lead at halftime, less than four minutes into halftime, K-State’s lead quickly turned into a 39-31 deficit.

But Kansas State was undeterred. K-State was picked to finish last in the Big 12 in Jerome Tang’s first season as head coach, but this team has consistently exceeded expectations. What was an eight-point deficit to Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA tournament?

K-State responded with an 8-0 run of their own, sparking an even game in the final 13 minutes of regulation time.

But the Kansas State team made more games on the track. Nowell drilled a 3 from the logo to tie the game at 54-54, 6-10. A few minutes later, after Kentucky took a four-point lead, Nowell drilled a step-back triple to reduce Britain’s lead to 60-59 with 3:33 time remaining.

Nowell later hit two free throws to give his team the lead, assisting Ismael Massoud and Keyontae Johnson on clutch 3-pointers that put K-State in the lead for good.

Johnson’s regression at the 1:23 mark was the dagger.

While Nowell took the lead, Johnson was one of three others to score in double figures for Kansas State. Johnson had 13 points while Desi Sills and Naeqwan Tomlin had 12 each.

For the Kentucky side, Tshiebwe recorded 25 points and 18 rebounds in what might be his last game in varsity uniform. Cason Wallace had 21 points and nine rebounds and Chris Livingston had 11, but Antonio Reeves had a brutal afternoon.

Reeves, Britain’s second-best scorer and top winger, finished the field with a miserable 1-of-15, including a 1-of-10 mark from beyond the arc. The only shot he hit was his last, a 3-pointer with just six seconds left on the clock.

Kentucky was just 4-of-20 on 3-pointers and finished the game with 16 costly turnovers.

GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 19: Markquis Nowell #1 of the Kansas State Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at The Fieldhouse at the Greensboro Coliseum on March 19.  2023 in Greensboro, NC.  (Photo by Jared C Tilton/Getty Images)

GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA – MARCH 19: Markquis Nowell #1 of the Kansas State Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at the Fieldhouse at Greensboro Coliseum on March 19, 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C Tilton/Getty Images)


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