Baltimore Sun

Thriller goes to K-State

- By Tom Canavan

NEW YORK — Markquis Nowell walked the ball up the floor with the score tied in the final minute of overtime and exchanged animated hand signals with his coach, Jerome Tang.

Standing on the March Madness logo at Madison Square Garden, the 5-foot-8 Kansas State point guard who grew up in Harlem glanced at the basket for a split second and flicked a chest pass into the lane. Keyontae Johnson slipped behind the Michigan State defense, elevated with his back to the basket, grabbed the ball and slammed it down.

It was the signature play of a towering performanc­e by the shortest player on the floor.

Nowell broke the NCAA Tournament record for assists in a game with 19, his last two on spectacula­r passes in the final minute of OT, and Kansas State beat Michigan State 98-93 on Thursday night in a Sweet 16 thriller.

“Today was a special one, man,” said Nowell, who fought through a second-half ankle injury. “I’ve got to give a lot to credit to my teammates for battling, for fighting through adversity when we was down. I can’t even explain how I’m feeling right now. I just know that I’m blessed and I’m grateful.”

Nowell’s alley-oop to Johnson with 52 seconds left in OT gave the Wildcats (26-9) the lead for good in this back-and-forth East Region semifinal.

“It was just a play between me and Keyontae,” Nowell said. “We knew how they play defense. They play high up, and Keyontae told me, we got eye contact, and he was like, lob. I threw it up, and he made a great play.”

Michigan State cut the lead to one before Nowell bounced

an inbound pass from under the basket to Ismael Massoud, who knocked down a jumper with 17 seconds left that put Kansas State ahead 96-93 and gave Nowell the assists record.

With Michigan State needing a 3 to tie, Nowell stole the ball from the Spartans’ Tyson Walker and drove for a clinching layup at the buzzer. Nowell finished with 20 points and five steals in a signature performanc­e at basketball’s most famous arena that drew tweets of praise from Patrick Mahomes and Kevin Durant.

“That was a legendary display of controllin­g a basketball game Markquis,” Durant tweeted.

UNLV’s Mark Wade had the previous NCAA tourney assists record with 18 during the Runnin’ Rebels 1987 Final Four win over Indiana.

Tang, the energetic, 56-yearold first-year head coach who was hired to lead the Wildcats after two

decades as an assistant at Baylor, gave all the credit to his senior point guard.

“Well, what really helps is that all 10 eyes on the defense have to pay attention to him, and that’s what allows everybody else to get open,” Tang said. “It’s not just that he sees it, but they all have to pay attention to him when he has the ball in his hands.”

Johnson — the Florida transfer who was sidelined for nearly two years after he collapsed on the court during a game in December 2020 — scored 22 points for the No. 3 seed Wildcats, who will face either fourth-seeded Tennessee or ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic on Saturday as they seek the program’s first Final Four berth since 1964.

The Tennessee-FAU game ended too late for this edition.

A.J. Hoggard scored a careerhigh 25 points for seventh-seeded Michigan State (21-13).

 ?? ADAM HUNGER/AP ?? Keyontae Johnson dunks on an alley-oop pass from Markquis Nowell to give Kansas State the lead for good late in its win Thursday.
ADAM HUNGER/AP Keyontae Johnson dunks on an alley-oop pass from Markquis Nowell to give Kansas State the lead for good late in its win Thursday.

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