Kansas State tops Kentucky to reach Sweet 16

College Basketball

March Madness 2023

March 19, 2023 | 18:34

GREENSBORO, NC – Markquis Nowell scored 23 of his 27 points after halftime, and Kansas State overcame a terrible start from the outside by hitting a pair of 3-pointers while topping Kentucky 75-69 in Sunday’s second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The win sends the third-seeded Wildcats (25-9) to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018, and it came thanks to a series of big shots that ultimately pushed them through in a close game.

They will play the winner of Michigan State-Marquette in the East Region semifinals.

Kansas State missed its first 13 3-pointers and sat 2 for 17 for the game as outside shots began to fall.

It was Nowell who buried a step-back 3 against Cason Wallace to bring Kansas State within 60-59, followed a little later by Ismael Massoud who buried one from the right wing at the 2:21 mark that gave Kansas State the lead for good at 64 -62.

Markquis Nowell of Kansas State reacts against the Kentucky Wildcats.
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Keyontae Johnson added one more from that side of the court in front of the Kansas State bench, pushing the lead to 67-62 with 1:23 left — sending a surge with the kind of margin that felt massive considering nearly the entire second half. had been played within four points.

The 5-foot-8 Nowell, a third-team Associated Press All-American, played a fearless floor game while making 7 of 14 shots and 10 of 11 free throws.

The Harlem native also hit three 3s, including the first over Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe after an 0-for-13 start by Kansas State and another after halftime with his left foot on the “March Madness” logo near midcourt.

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Tshiebwe had 25 points and 18 rebounds for sixth-seeded Kentucky (22-12), which shot 55 percent after halftime and led by eight early in the second half. But the Wildcats could never extend that lead and then couldn’t make their own big outside shots (4 for 20 for the game) to answer when Kansas State made its move.

Consider it the latest chapter in a streak of surprisingly quick success for Kansas State under first-year coach Jerome Tang, who left Baylor after a long stint on Scott Drew’s staff to take over in Manhattan.

Desi Sills celebrates Kansas State’s win over Kentucky to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
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He inherited a program that hadn’t been in the tournament since 2019, was coming off three straight losing seasons and was picked to finish last in the Big 12.

Still, after a summer of reshaping the roster through the transfer portal, the Wildcats built early confidence and thrived right away — and now it has them in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

And the effort paid off in a number of ways on Sunday.

It was Johnson, who transferred from Florida after collapsing in a game in December 2020 and hadn’t played since before resuming his career with Kansas State.

It was Virginia Tech transfer David N’Guessan, who played several late possessions with his right heel out of his shoe — but still had the offensive rebound that led to Johnson’s 3.

And there was Massoud, who transferred from Wake Forest to Kansas State before Tang’s arrival and stuck around this year. He played about a 30-minute drive from his first college stop and hadn’t scored until hitting the huge 3.

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Keyontae Johnson shoots against Oscar Tshiebwe in the second half of the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
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For the second set of Wildcats, it marked another earlier exit from March Madness than expected.

Tshiebwe had 25 rebounds in a first-round win against Providence for the most in any tournament game since 1977, and the two-time AP All-American was again a force inside. Wallace had 15 of his 21 points after halftime, including several times when the freshman guard used his 6-4 frame to score against Nowell inside.

But No. 2 scorer Antonio Reeves (14.6 ppg) managed five points on 1-for-15 shooting, including 1-for-10 from behind the arc with the lone 3 coming with 8 seconds left and Kansas State in control.

When it was over, Kansas State players began hugging each other at midcourt and celebrating, with guard Desi Sills — another transfer, fittingly — speaking animatedly to near-cameras as he walked around the court in victory.

Later, after most of the team had left the field, Johnson still hung around behind the bench to give high-fives and sign autographs to fans.

And teammate Nae’Qwan Tomlin squeezed in one more high-five of his own before running toward the locker room while pointing triumphantly to another pocket of KSU fans.

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