When the Kansas State Wildcats defeated the Baylor Bears in Waco back on January 7, Wildcats head coach Jerome Tang, a Baylor assistant for 19 seasons, admitted to being so emotional about beating his former school and longtime mentor Scott Drew that he shed tears postgame.
This time around, the final buzzer found Tang in a more celebratory mood, leaping on top of a sideline table and into the Bramlage Coliseum student section, basking in another critical late-season Big 12 Conference win.
Keyontae Johnson poured in 25 points, Markquis Nowell contributed a double-double with 14 points and 10 assists, and the Wildcats secured a regular season series sweep of the Bears with a 75-65 win in Manhattan on Tuesday night.
Asked after the game about his emotions following this win relative to the first meeting, Tang said, “The circumstances were different (in the first meeting). I knew at end of that game, either we were gonna win and I would be happy, or they would lose and be on a three-game losing streak. And you never want to see the people you love go through that. This one, I feel like both teams are in the NCAA tournament, and they were arguably the hottest team in the league, so it felt like I could enjoy this more.”
The losing coach was gracious as ever in defeat.
“Jerome Tang should be National Coach of the Year, period,” Drew said after the game. “He’ll get my vote, because he’s earned it.”
In a first half defined by extended scoring runs, K-State took their turn first. After both teams were tied at nine after the first media timeout, the Wildcats went on a 14-4 run. Johnson hit a three-pointer and then fed Cam Carter for a transition layup that capped the run and gave K-State a ten-point edge, 23-13, prompting a Baylor timeout with 7:09 left in the half. Whatever Drew told his charges in the Bears huddle, it helped them rediscover their three-point stroke, as they would knock down six triples in a span of just over five minutes after having missed their first five attempts of the game from long distance. L.J. Cryer (four threes) and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (two threes) sparked the 21-3 Baylor run that put them ahead by eight at 34-26. The Wildcats would draw closer before the half ended thanks to Nae’Qwan Tomlin, whose corner three and backboard-rattling dunk on consecutive possessions got K-State within 34-31 at the intermission.
Johnson would lead the way for K-State in the second half. He made a three-pointer on the first offensive possession of the half to tie the game, knocked down consecutive mid-range jumpers to give the Wildcats a 41-40 lead, and then finished a thunderous breakaway dunk as part of a 6-0 burst that gave K-State a 49-43 lead with just over 12 minutes to play. The senior posted his eighth 20-point effort of the season, and his first since January 31 at Kansas.
“Once I saw the first few shots go in, it just loosened me up,” Johnson said.
That run expanded to a 12-1 run with Carter flying down the court after a steal for a right-hand flush that gave K-State their largest lead of the game to that point at 55-44, prompting another Baylor timeout with 8:16 left. The Wildcats pushed the lead to as many as 14 points at 65-51, and Baylor got no closer than eight from there as Nowell was a perfect 6-6 at the free throw line in the final minute.
— K-State Men's Basketball (@KStateMBB) February 22, 2023
“It’s real fun, getting a win in front of home crowd. It gives you confidence,” Nowell said. “We needed this, we earned this, we put in the work, when things were going bad we adjusted.”
Johnson and Nowell were joined in double-figure scoring for K-State by Carter, who added 10 points. Nowell was just 2-for-11 from the field, but made all ten of his free throw attempts and did not commit a turnover. Keyonte George scored 23 points and Cryer chipped in 16 for the Bears, who also got 11 points off the bench from Tchamwa Tchatchoua. Adam Flagler, Baylor’s second-leading scorer on the season, was just 1-for-13 shooting and finished with four points.
“Defensively, we did a really good job early in the first half,” Tang said. “At halftime, the team said, ‘if we do this (differently) it will make it easier for us.’ The fact they were thinking about the problem and came up with the solution was big time, and they came out and executed in the second half.”
The win gives K-State back-to-back victories for the first time since their home wins over Kansas and Texas Tech on January 17 and 21 respectively. It also is K-State’s seventh win over an AP Top 25 opponent this season, which ties the single-season school record. They improve to 21-7 and 9-6 in Big 12 play. That ties the Wildcats with Baylor for third in the Big 12 standings, as Baylor dropped to 9-6 in the league and 20-8 overall.
K-State is back on the road for their next contest, a Saturday matinee in Stillwater against Oklahoma State. K-State beat OSU 65-57 at Bramlage Coliseum back on January 10.
Cam Carter, Keyontae Johnson, Markquis Nowell