Kansas State head coach Jerome Tang wasn’t happy with the way his team played in the second half of their loss to Texas on Saturday afternoon. For a while, it looked like he might again be left frustrated by his team’s finishing kick. But thanks to the usual suspects – Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson – and an unusual one – Tykei Greene – the Wildcats closed with a fury, avenged their most lopsided loss of Big 12 Conference play, and stayed in touch in the league title race.
Nowell led the Wildcats with 18 points and became the school’s all-time single-season assists leader with seven helpers, and Johnson and Greene catalyzed a 15-0 run in the final four minutes, as #12 K-State pulled away from #17 TCU 82-61 at Bramlage Coliseum on Tuesday night.
“There needed to be a heightened sense of urgency,” Tang said about his team, who avoided a third straight loss and fourth straight conference defeat with the win. “The players are the ones who drive it.”
On his seventh assist of the night, a pass that set up a Johnson three-pointer, Nowell passed Steve Henson‘s record of 186 assists in the 1987-88 season.
“It’s a blessing,” Nowell said of his feat. “When you have a group of guys like we have here, it’s easy to get assists and make plays for them. I give credit to my teammates for finishing. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Both teams struggled through an uneven first half, with K-State managing just 34% shooting (12-for-35) and TCU coughing up possession 13 times. After falling behind by one early, the Wildcats went on an 11-3 run punctuated by a Nowell layup to take an 18-11 lead with just under nine minutes to play in the half. Though TCU would get no closer than three points the rest of the half, K-State couldn’t stretch the lead out any further than that seven-point mark, ultimately holding a 36-30 advantage at halftime after a pair of Nae’Qwan Tomlin free throws with three seconds left.
TCU opened the second half strong, closing the gap to two points, but K-State would let them get no closer. Four straight points by Desi Sills allowed K-State to open up their first double-digit lead of the game, 48-38, with 15:35 to play in the second half. The Wildcats led by as many as 13 but went quiet from the field, allowing TCU to go on a late run to get as close as six at 65-59 with 4:39 left. K-State responded with their decisive flurry, highlighted by a pair of Greene dunks and a Nowell long-distance three with a minute to play, that left the Wildcats with an 80-59 lead. During the run, Johnson tossed an alley-oop pass for Greene and then scored five straight points of his own, finishing his night on a high note after having spent much of the first half on the bench due to foul trouble.
Greene finished with a season-high 13 points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench. It was the most minutes the transfer from Stony Brook had played in a Big 12 game this season.
“It means a lot to have a game like this,” Greene said. “I wanted to come in and help the team right away. I just came in and did whatever I had to do.”
“I tell everybody, everybody on this team is gonna have an opportunity to help us win a game,” said Tang of Greene. “Tonight his opportunity came, and he was ready.”
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In addition to Nowell’s 18 and Greene’s 13, three other Wildcats finished with double-figure points. Sills and Johnson each had 14 points and David N’Guessan chipped in 10.
Damion Baugh led four Horned Frogs in double figures with 16 points. TCU was without star guard Mike Miles for a third consecutive game due to injury. They did welcome Eddie Lampkin back to the starting lineup for the first time since January 21, but the big man didn’t score and had just one rebound in 18 minutes.
K-State hits the road for their next two conference games. They’re at Texas Tech on Saturday night, with tipoff from Lubbock set for 6pm.
Desi Sills, Markquis Nowell, Tykei Greene