Playing their first game as a ranked team in this 2022-23 season, in front of a rare mid-week sellout crowd at Bramlage Coliseum, the eleventh-ranked Kansas State Wildcats showed off the toughness, resilience, and star power that has made them a legitimate Big 12 Conference contender.
Markquis Nowell had 20 points and seven assists, the last of which was an alley-oop pass for a critical Keyontae Johnson dunk in the game’s final minute, and K-State held off a late charge from Oklahoma State in a 65-57 win in Manhattan on Tuesday night.
Nowell, the reigning National Player of the Week, shot the Wildcats (15-1, 4-0 Big 12) to a double-digit advantage in the second half, but it was his assist on Johnson’s jam that closed the door on the Cowboys (9-7, 1-3 Big 12), who had closed the gap to just one point with just over two minutes to play.
“We say all the time, big time players make big time plays in big time moments,” K-State head coach Jerome Tang said after the game. “There’s no coaching to that. That’s players. That’s dudes.”
The story of the first half was defense, particularly the paint defense of the visitors. The Wildcats were held to just 32 percent shooting in the first half, and only made five of their 16 attempts from two-point range. But thanks to five made three-pointers and some tenacious defending of their own, K-State hung tough. K-State led 23-17 late in the first half before OSU went on an 11-0 run to seize their largest lead of the first half at 28-23. Caleb Asberry scored for the Pokes in the waning seconds to push their lead back to five, but Cam Carter had the final shot and splashed a three from the corner to beat the buzzer and cut the K-State deficit to 32-30 at the break.
In the second half, Nowell’s long-range shooting sparked the Wildcats. A four-point play from Nowell gave K-State their largest lead of the game, 51-41, with 10:11 left to go. Another Nowell three made it a 54-44 Wildcat advantage with 8:37 to play.
But when the Wildcat offense fell silent, Oklahoma State rallied. A 9-0 run capped off by a Chris Harris Jr. three-pointer trimmed the K-State lead to 56-55, and the Cowboys had the ball with a chance to take the lead with three minutes left. The Wildcat defense, which limited OSU to 23 percent shooting in the second half (8-for-35), forced a shot clock violation, and thanks to free throws from Baybe Iyiola and Nowell, built their lead back to 60-55. OSU scored and called a time-out, leading to the play that will be talked about for a long time to come by those who saw it live. With the shot clock winding down, Nowell dribbled around a double team, composed himself just long enough to throw an accurate pass, and lobbed the ball toward the basket, where Johnson elevated and flushed it with one hand to put K-State ahead 62-57.
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“That was crazy, right?” said Tang. “I’m not by nature a guy who cusses. I thought the ball was going out of bounds. But then (Johnson) goes up, vertical, and he’s outside the lane, and then hammers it. And I said, ‘What the…’!”
“I saw that they put two on the ball,” Nowell described. “The help was a little bit above (Johnson). I just figured, throw it up to Key. I knew he’d catch it.”
Johnson and Desi Sills joined Nowell as double-figure scorers for K-State, chipping in 12 and 11 points respectvely. Kalib Boone‘s 23 points led the Cowboys, who had a 16-0 advantage in second-chance points that helped them stay close all night despite not having the services of the Big 12’s leading rebounder, Moussa Cisse, who was not available to play.
The Wildcats exceeded last season’s win total with their fifteenth win. “Coach always talks about wins being hard to come by, so you gotta celebrate them,” Nowell said. “We put in a lot of work over the summer, and each day we’re blessed to play this game. That’s how we approach it.”
K-State is back in action Saturday in Fort Worth, where they will face TCU.
Keyontae Johnson, Markquis Nowell, Desi Sills