Kansas State won the battle of the Wildcats on Sunday, earning a bid to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Sweet 16 in the process.
After a back-and-forth matchup with No. 6 seed Kentucky, third-seeded K-State pulled away late for a 75-69 and their first berth in the Sweet 16 since 2018.
It’s also the first appearance in the national semifinals for K-State coach Jerome Tang, accomplishing that feat in his first season leading the program. He’s the first coach in Wildcats history to reach the Sweet 16 in this first year since the tournament expanded to n64 teams in 1985, and this is now the second-longest tournament run Kansas State has had in that period.
“I’m so proud of them,” Tang said. “So proud to represent Kansas State. I’m so proud to be a part of the community of Manhattan. I’m just blessed, man. I’m so blessed.”
K-State trailed for much of the first half before going on a 12-4 run and taking a three-point lead into the break. Most of the second half was equally tight, with Kentucky even claiming a four-point advantage with exactly four minutes to play. The purple wildcats took over from there, though, with a 19-9 game-ending run that started with a three pointer from senior guard Markquis Nowell.
He was the catalyst for much of K-State’s late-game success, with the third-team All-American posting 11 points, two assists and a steal in the final four minutes.
“I was just in attack mode the second half because I saw how they were playing me,” Nowell said. “They were playing me for the pass because I dropped a lot of dimes in the first half. I tried to look for my own shot a little bit more and be more aggressive, and I wanted to go to New York.”
Nowell finished with a game-high 27 points on 7-of-14 shooting and a 10-11 performance at the free throw line. He was one of four K-State players to score in double figures, also including senior forward Keyontae Johnson with 13 points, and 12 each for senior guard Desi Sills and junior forward Nae’Qwan Tomlin.
Kentucky senior center Oscar Tshiebwe led the blue wildcats with 25 points and 18 rebounds in the losing effort.
K-State is now off to New York City, the East region host site for this year’s NCAA tournament. The Wildcats will face the No. 7 seed Michigan State Spartans in the Sweet 16, who beat the second-seeded Marquette Golden Eagles on Sunday 69-60. The winner of that game will then play either the Tennessee Volunteers or the Florida Atlantic Owls in the Elite Eight.
Kansas State versus Michigan State is set for a 5:30 p.m. central time tip off this Thursday.