GREENSBORO, N.C. — On a day in which upsets dominated the NCAA Tournament schedule, No. 3 seed Kansas State did just what it was supposed to.
The Wildcats handled the No. 14 seed Montana State Bobcats, 77-65, in a game that they controlled midway through the first half on.
“This is the best time of year for college basketball, and to be able to be a part of this and to get a win, we never are going to take for granted winning,” K-State head coach Jerome Tang said. “It’s just so hard to do. As you look across the tournament, you see the upsets. So we’re just super thankful that we get to be together for another day and they get to hear me yell at them.”
Senior point guard Markquis Nowell was unstoppable, ending the night with 17 points and 14 assists to go along with six rebounds and three steals.
“He is so fast and quick,” Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle said. “He has some of the quickest hands that I have seen defensively, even loose-ball rebounds. He comes up with everything.”
The double-double was his eighth this season, his 11th as a Wildcat and the 16th of his career.
Nowell’s 14 assists matched a career high and were the most by a Wildcat in an NCAA Tournament game, topping the 12 dimes Steve Henson dropped versus Purdue on March 25, 1988.
“It’s a blessing to tie my career high, but I have to give credit to my teammates for getting open and finishing the plays,” Nowell said. "It was just a well-executed ball game and game plan that the coaching staff came up with, and the players, we executed it. I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates.”
K-State had 21 assists as a team which tied a team record for the most in an NCAA Tournament game.
Joining Nowell in double-figures was Keyontae Johnson, who actually led the Wildcats in scoring with 18 points and a game-high eight rebounds.
“He is tremendous,” Sprinkle said. “When he gets going, putting the ball on the floor, he is so strong and athletic. We don’t see a lot of guys like that in our league.”
Nae’Qwan Tomlin had 13 points — all of which came in the second half — and David N’Guessan had 10 points.
The Wildcats shot 58.2% from the field — the fifth-best all-time for K-State in an NCAA Tournament game and the best since 2017 — while holding the Bobcats to 46%.
K-State dominated in the paint, outscoring Montana State by almost 20, 48-30, even though the Bobcats sported several talented and experienced big men.
“It’s the big emphasis (for us) to get to the paint,” Nowell said. “When you get to the paint, it draws so much attention, and we have dynamic players, dynamic guards that can get to the paint and create for each other. You just saw it today. When we play together and for each other, we’re a really good team.”
It's go time. pic.twitter.com/8iKXIX0eIr— Tim Everson (@iamtimeverson) March 18, 2023
After the Bobcats got within four points early in the first half, the Wildcats quickly stretched their lead back to eight. Montana State got within eight several more times, but never got closer than that down the stretch.
Kansas State’s lead grew to as many as 13 midway through the second half after a nearly five-minute scoring drought for Montana State.
An 8-0 run late in the game officially put the Bobcats away, highlighted by a one-handed slam on the break by Desi Sills that electrified Greensboro Coliseum.
Early in the game, the Wildcats stumbled, turning over the ball four times in the first seven minutes of play, allowing the Bobcats to take several brief leads midway through the first half.
Tomlin picked up two quick fouls and in turn, sat for nearly 14 ½ minutes of the first half.
“Whenever Nae’Qwan stays out of foul trouble and is on the floor, he is a mismatch because it doesn’t matter what position he is at,” Tang said. “We just want him to be aggressive on the offensive end, and he was in the second half because he got to play and got 20 minutes. If we can get 30 out of him, then we might be really good.”
Bobcat star junior guard RaeQuan Battle carried the majority of the load for Montana State in the first half, scoring 13 of their points including a perfect 2-for-2 from behind the arc.
Battle ended the game with 26 points and was joined in double figures by Darius Brown II who had 12 points and nine assists and Great Osobor had 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
The Wildcats separated themselves on a 6-0 run late in the first half, stretching their lead to nine before the Bobcats scored three in the final minute to cut the lead to six, 34-28, at the half.
The win is the first for K-State in the NCAA Tournament since 2018. They will play No. 6 seed Kentucky on Sunday. The two schools will meet for the 11th time, and the first since K-State beat Kentucky on their way to the Elite Eight during the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
Tip-off is scheduled for 1:40 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on CBS.