The Kansas State Wildcats aren’t just 6-0 to begin the Jerome Tang era, but they’re also bringing some new hardware coming back to Manhattan as well.
Thanks to a blowout win on Monday, an overtime thriller on Tuesday and a controversial close call on Wednesday, K-State won claimed the 2022 Cayman Islands Classic championship this week, the program’s first preseason tournament title since the 2018 Paradise Jam.
The Wildcats cruised in their opening-round game against Rhode Island before running into their first real test of the season in the semifinals against Nevada, which was K-State’s first opponent this year ranked in the top 100 of Kenpom. The Wolf Pack held a late lead before senior guard Markquis Nowell hit a last-second buzzer beater to send the game to overtime.
K-State dominated the extra session, taking a 16-7 advantage in overtime to advance to the finals.
There was more drama to be found in the championship game when the Wildcats faced the LSU Tigers, who advanced to the title game following wins over Illinois State and Akron. LSU led by eight at halftime, but Kansas State was surged back to grab a late lead with under five seconds to play, thanks in large part to another big game from Nowell.
LSU thought it had tied the game at the buzzer on a layup by senior guard Trae Hannibal, but the shot was waved off due to a clock malfunction. That was the Tigers’ last best chance, as the Wildcats didn’t allow a score following the restart and K-State hung on to win the tournament title.
“I thought our guys did an unbelievable job in the second half on their bigs,” Tang said. “I’m just so proud of our guys, and been so thankful for this opportunity to serve and love them.”
Nowell was named the MVP of the Cayman Islands Classic after averaging 18.7 points and nine assists per game over the three-day event. That included a game-high 18 points, four rebounds and four assists against LSU.
Senior Arkansas State transfer Desi Sills also had a big performance in the title game with a season-high 16 points, while it was senior Florida transfer Keyontae Johnson who hit the go-ahead field goal on Wednesday night.
“We worked hard for this,” Sills said. “We played as a team for each and every minute, and it paid off at the end.”
K-State is off to its best start in four years, and it’ll face another challenge in its next game when it visits the Butler Bulldogs for the Big East-Big 12 Battle. That game is set for a 5:30 p.m. tipoff on Wednesday, Nov. 30.