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Nowell leads Kansas State to 63-54 win over Cal

After K-State almost lost a 20-point lead, Nowell took over to give the Wildcats their first road win of the Jerome Tang Era.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Basketball Tipoff
Markquis Nowell keeps inspiring short guards everywhere thanks to his incredible heart, talent and determination.
William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Anybody who went through the hassle of getting access to the Pac-12 Network got to see Jerome Yang Markquis Nowell cement himself as the unquestioned leader of this Kansas State basketball team.

We already knew the flashy 5-foot-8 point guard from Brooklyn was the primary creator and capable of making highlight plays like his behind-the-back assist to Nae’Qwan Tomlin for a monster dunk in the first half. But even more valuable was Nowell almost singlehandedly saving K-State from a disastrous collapse in a 63-54 win at California.

When Cal cut a 20-point second-half lead to one, Nowell responded by converting a four-point play, making a driving layup, coming up with a steal and assisting Tomlin on another dunk, all in a span of 66 seconds. The ‘Cats never looked back and Nowell finished the night with 13 points (despite a rough shooting night), 7 assists and 3 steals.

One of his most impressive defensive plays came in the first half, when he stripped a much bigger guy as he went up for a jump shot, then grabbed the ball and threw it off the much bigger guy for Cal’s 8th turnover in the first 12 minutes. They ended up committing 22, thanks in part to 10 K-State steals.

That defense forced a field drought of more than 10 minutes in the first half, allowing the Wildcats to turn a 13-13 tie into a 30-15 lead. Tomlin, Keyontae Johnson and Tykei Greene all hit 3-pointers during that stretch, which was capped off by the aforementioned Tomlin highlight-reel dunk.

Nowell hit three free throws from two different fouls in five seconds thanks to his steal in the backcourt, giving Kansas State the last three points it needed to take a 36-21 advantage into halftime. Two free throws by Tomlin put the ‘Cats up 42-22 with 17:11 to play before the offense suddenly went stagnant.

Poor movement and shot selection helped Cal reel off a 13-0 run before Johnson made a layup to end a drought of almost six minutes. He scored a team-high 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting while grabbing 9 rebounds and Tomlin added 11 points and 2 blocks for Kansas State.

Perhaps this offense isn’t quite as good as we thought after the win over UTRGV, so it’s a good thing the Wildcats kept up their energy defensively for most of the game. However, it should be noted they were also fortunate Cal was missing some of its offensive firepower due to injuries.

Either way, a P5 road win is never something to be taken for granted, especially when it’s the first one for a team full of newcomers and led by a new coach. This one wasn’t pretty — K-State shot 37% from the field (16-18 from the free throw line!) — but it got the job done and the ‘Cats will be 2-0 heading into a home game against Kansas City next Thursday.

Three in the key

  1. Greene boost — Tykei Greene continued to show his abilities as a dynamic scorer off the bench, adding 8 points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field. The Stony Brook transfer gives K-State a nice spark with his athleticism and yes, some of the flash that comes from growing up in NYC. It’s also nice to see he’s adapting well to more of a secondary role after playing as a starter and key scorer for the last two season.
  2. Boarding up — Rebounding was an issue for much of last season, so it was nice to see the ‘Cats hold their own on the glass, even if they did end up tied 35-35. Desi Sills grabbed 6 rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench and the Wildcats turned 12 offensive rebounds into 9 second-chance points.
  3. Ice cold from outside — Despite those three 3-pointers during that big first half run, the ‘Cats struggled to shoot from deep, making just 5-of-19. Tomlin, Greene and Nowell all hit just 1-of-4, and Ish Massoud made only 1-of-3 as part of a tough offensive night. But the good news is other than perhaps during that second-half scoring drought, K-State did not stop attacking the basket and settle for long jumpers, which is why they were able to overcome poor jump shooting to win.