#5 Kansas State Handles Florida in SEC/Big 12 Challenge

The irresistible narrative entering Kansas State’s matchup with Florida in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge was the reunion between Wildcat star Keyontae Johnson and the program he’d once starred for before a heart condition nearly ended his playing career.

But as the performance of the fifth-ranked Wildcats on Saturday night proved, basketball is a team game.

It was not Johnson’s sharpest offensive night of the season, but he did manage a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and he had help from four other Wildcats who scored at least nine points in a 64-50 win over the Gators at Bramlage Coliseum.

“Today was a special day,” Johnson said after the game. “I feel like it was a great experience.”

Johnson spent time with some of his former teammates after the game and posed for pictures. He played 72 career games at Florida before he collapsed during a game in December of 2020.

“I wanted to see (Johnson) have a good game,” said Wildcats head coach Jerome Tang. “I wanted to see him get the win. I know our team wanted him to get the win.”

The win snapped a four-game losing skid for K-State in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and moved them to 18-3 overall, matching the program’s best start since 1972-73.

Though it was Florida who came into the matchup with one of the top rated defenses in the country, it was K-State who had the clamps on in the first 20 minutes of action, holding the Gators to 6-for-29 (21 percent) shooting from the field. The Cats raced out to a double-digit lead with David N’Guessan providing a spark in his first start since December 21. He and Cam Carter each scored nine first-half points to lead K-State, who took a 37-16 lead into the locker room with a pair of late Nae’Qwan Tomlin free throws giving the Wildcats the 21-point edge.

The visitors wouldn’t roll over, opening the second half on a 10-0 scoring run to trim the K-State lead down to 11 points. A Markquis Nowell three pushed the margin back to 46-30 in K-State’s favor with 12:11 to play. Ish Massoud’s three-pointer with six minutes left put K-State back on top by 21, and a Johnson dunk with 4:56 to go prompted a Gator timeout as the Wildcats took their largest lead of the night at 59-36.

K-State shot just 38 percent (23-61) in their winning effort, with Johnson just 5-16 from the floor. Nowell joined him as the team’s high scorers with 13 points. Tomlin added 11 points, and N’Guessan and Carter each had nine. Nowell just missed a triple-double, tallying a career-high-tying nine rebounds and eight assists.

“We needed to improve our rebounding, and I think we did a better job,” said Tang of his Wildcats, who won the rebounding battle 49 to 36. “Part of that was scheme and part of that was David playing.”

Florida (12-9 overall) was led by center Colin Castleton, who had 13 points and eight rebounds. Will Richard and Myreon Jones were both in double-figures with 11 points for the Gators.

Next on deck for K-State is a big one – their return engagement with the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence on Tuesday night.


Markquis Nowell, David N’Guessan, Keyontae Johnson

Jerome Tang