Markquis Nowell had every right to be frustrated going into the locker room at halftime of Saturday’s Big 12 Conference clash against Iowa State at Bramlage Coliseum. Not only did his Kansas State Wildcats appear on the verge of a third straight defeat, but Nowell himself appeared to still be in the throes of a shooting slump. He had missed all three of his field goal attempts and had just two points at the intermission.
In the second half, however, Nowell showed why it’s common basketball wisdom that ‘shooters shoot’.
The senior point guard scored 18 points in the second twenty minutes of action, providing the crucial offensive spark, and his twelfth-ranked Wildcats rallied from eight points down at halftime to topple the nineteenth-ranked Cyclones 61-55.
“We started rolling, the crowd got involved,” Nowell said. “It was a must win after two road losses. We stayed poised and we came out on top.”
“He just needed to get some looks,” said Wildcats head coach Jerome Tang of Nowell. “He’s a competitor. Some nights shots fall, some nights they don’t. But his competitiveness, toughness, and desire to win has never been in question.”
The first half saw Iowa State get out to an early seven-point advantage at 12-5. K-State shook off some early offensive struggles and battled back to tie the game at 17, but the visitors responded with a 12-2 run capped off by a Aljaz Kunc three-pointer that gave them their largest lead of the first half at 29-19 with just under three minutes left in the half. A late layup by Jaren Holmes gave the Cyclones a 31-23 lead going into the locker room. K-State shot just 30 percent in the first half and were outrebounded by six, 21-15.
“It’s never good to be down at the half, but there are two halves in the game,” said Wildcat forward Ish Massoud. “Credit to Markquis, he challenged us to do our jobs. When everybody locks in, we feel like the sky’s the limit.”
Nowell and the Wildcats came out firing to start the second half. He knocked down three threes before the first media timeout of the half, and Cam Carter added another as part of a 14-5 run that gave K-State a 37-36 lead. The Wildcats led by a 45-40 tally after a Keyontae Johnson layup with just over nine minutes to play, and held on to the advantage despite not making a field goal in the next 7:21 of the half. Nowell would break the drought with a deep three with 2:42 left to push the Wildcats lead back to five at 53-48. With K-State leading by five and under two minutes to play, Iowa State’s freshman point guard Tamin Lipsey committed turnovers on consecutive possessions, and K-State turned the second of them into a Nae’Qwan Tomlin layup to take a 57-50 lead with 1:12 left. After two Kunc free throws at the other end, the Wildcats plunged the dagger in with Nowell’s nifty dish finding a cutting Johnson for a reverse layup that made it 59-52 with 32 seconds left.
With points at a premium in the entire second half, the Wildcats held Iowa State to just 7-for-32 shooting (21.9 percent) and forced misses on six of the Cyclones’ final seven shot attempts.
“Neither of us made shots, but our defense was there for us even though shots weren’t there,” Tang said. “This was a huge Big 12 game and a huge win for us as a team.”
In addition to Nowell, Johnson also scored in double-figures for K-State, tallying 15 points. Kunc led the way for Iowa State with 15 points, with Gabe Kalscheur adding 11 points.
K-State improved to 20-7 on the season with the win, securing the 31st 20-win season in program history. It was their sixth win against an AP Top 25 opponent this season, which ties a school record. The Wildcats are 8-6 in the Big 12 Conference, the same record as Iowa State, who fell to 17-9 with the defeat. It was the sixth straight road loss for the Cyclones this season.
Next up for the Wildcats is another home game against a ranked foe, as they welcome Baylor to Bramlage Coliseum on Tuesday night.
Markquis Nowell, Keyontae Johnson, Ish Massoud