The Kansas State Wildcats held a 9-point lead over the Nevada Wolfpack in the semi-finals of the Cayman Islands Classic with a scant 3:54 to play. The ‘Cats would blow that lead and need a driving lay-up by super-senior point guard Marquis Nowell to force overtime. The OT period, it turns out, was just five more minutes for Nowell to show off, as K-State pulled away to win 96-87.
With the win, the Cats move to 5-0 for the first time since 2018. Nevada falls to 5-1.
Pregame billings suggested this game would be a defensive mud-wrestling competition. Nevada had given up 56 points per game on average in its first 5 wins, and K-State had not allowed any opponent to score more than 59 in its four victories. Notions of a hands-and-knees race to 60 were quickly dispelled, though, as both teams scored 12 before the first media timeout.
The game was close through most of regulation and included 5 lead changes. Nevada led by two at halftime, 38-36, and reeled off a 5-0 run out of the break to gain a 7-point advantage. But Nowell buried a three-pointer and fed David N’Guessan for a layup and Keyontae Johnson for a three-point basket to turn the tide and give the Wildcats a 44-43 lead.
The margin stayed within four for several minutes, and the teams would again be tied at 67 with 8:31 to play before K-State appeared to grab control, mainly by locking down defensively for a stretch of the contest. Nevada went scoreless for nearly four minutes during a 9-0 K-State run that gave the Wildcats a seemingly comfortable 76-67 lead with 4:08 remaining.
But Nevada capitalized on passive K-State offense and some key mental lapses to roar back.
Desi Sills fouled Kenan Blackshear 93 feet from the Nevada basked, and Blackshear made both free throws to pull within 7. Nowell fouled Darrion Williams, who made two more free throws to cut the lead to 5.
Nevada’s Will Baker, who was a problem most of the night right under the rim, made a jumper to bring the score to 76-73 with 2:19 remaining. Tre Coleman buried a three less than a minute later, and the game was tied at 76. Over 2:35 of game time, the Wolfpack had run off a 9-0 burst to tie the contest.
K-State’s Nae’Qwan Tomlin got a dunk off a nice assist from Keyontae Johnson to briefly reclaim the lead. But Nevada’s Jarod Lucas got open on the sideline for a three-pointer over Tomlin to give Nevada a 79-78 advantage.
When Nowell drove and tried to force a shot through three taller Nevada players, then landed on the end line with the ball after having his shot blocked, the outcome looked dire for Kansas State.
The Cats fouled with only 14 seconds remaining. Blackshear made the first free throw, but missed the second. Johnson rebounded, and Nowell hit the aforementioned driving layup to force the overtime period.
The OT was mostly Marquis. Nowell scored 9 in the extra five minutes, willing the team to victory.
The game turned, ultimately, on a battle of contrasts at the point guard spot, plus the contributions of Johnson versus the rest of Nevada’s starting five. Nowell, at 5-foot-8, found himself guarding Nevada’s all-conference 6-foot-6 Kenan Blackshear. Both performed well, but K-State’s little tough guy got the better of the taller competition, in the end, scoring 29 points to lead all scorers, and throwing 11 assists. Blackshear scored 17 and added 10 assists for his squad.
All five starters for Nevada scored double-figures, led by Jarod Lucas’s 20. K-State’s cause was greatly aided by 7-foot Baker (19 points), Blackshear and Darrion Williams fouling out in OT.
Only two Wildcats reached double-digit scoring, but both had monster games. In addition to Nowell’s 29-point performance, Johnson poured in 28 on efficient 8-13 (2-3 from deep) shooting. He was 10-11 from the free throw line and led the squad with 9 rebounds, as well.
Three in the Key
- K-State basketball is fun, sports fans. No longer plodding, grinding and fighting for every point, this Jerome Tang-authored version of Cats pushes the pace, moves the ball, and attacks the basket. They still get after teams defensively, which will always need to be a Wildcat trademark. But they also fill the lanes in the open floor, share the basketball and rattle the rim with regularity. If the preseason prognosticators are right (ahem, they surely are not), and K-State is the worst team in the Big 12, then the Big 12 will be an absolute monster of a conference this year.
- Defensive battle? Not so much. The game was tied 80-all at the end of regulation, and both teams shot over 50% from the floor. Both squads made 22 free throws. K-State was 8-17 from deep, and Nevada was 9-22. The difference? K-State got up six more shots (33-60, 55%) than Nevada, despite turning the ball over 15 times (a vast improvement over Monday’s game, incidentally) to the Wolfpack’s 11. How did they turn that trick? By winning the rebounding battle by a whopping 36-22 margin, including a 13-6 advantage on the offensive glass. [Aside: Only 22 rebounds in a game that went overtime? Putrid effort there, ‘Pack.] That led to a 16-9 advantage in second-chance points which was, essentially, the difference in the game. What would the “Play Hard Chart” have to say about that, hmm?
- Chance to play for a title tomorrow. The name gets quite a bit bigger, as the Cats will face LSU for the tournament championship at 6:30 p.m. LSU had a much easier time beating Akron, 73-58, than the Cats did with this athletic Nevada squad. Let’s hope the legs recover and there is no emotional hangover, so Coach Tang and the guys can bring home some hardware.