With the win the Wildcats (23-7, 11-6 Big 12) capped off a 15-1 record in Bramlage Coliseum, and a 16-1 overall home record, counting the win over Nebraska at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City. They also kept pace with Baylor, as the two teams sit tied for third in the Big 12 behind Kansas and Texas with each team having a single conference game remaining.
Oklahoma (14-16, 4-13) took advantage of early K-State miscues and missed layups—doubtless the result, at least partly, of an emotional Senior Night sendoff for six seniors—to lead for much of the first half. The Wildcats missed their first 5 attempts from the floor and did not make a field goal until Desi Sills converted a layup nearly four minutes into the game. Though OU scored the first five points of the game, the K-State defense and rebounding kept the Sooners from pulling away until the offense found its footing.
A Markquis Nowell three-pointer gave K-State its first lead, 21-20, with 5:25 to play in the half. A jumper by Keyontae Johnson and a layup by David N’Guessan stretched the Cats’ lead to five, but Oklahoma tied the game at 25-all before the final media timeout of the first half.
Whatever magic dust Coach Tang sprinkled in that under-four huddle, let’s hope he has an ample supply in reserve for the postseason.
After the break, Nae’Qwan Tomlin scored off a nice baseline drive and feed from Cam Carter. The next two possessions came up empty, as Ismael Massoud failed to connect. Then the show really began.
Desi Sills got a steal, and Nowell created to find N’Guessan for a layup. Johnson hit a three-pointer off a behind-the-back feed from Desi Sills. Then, with 43 seconds to play, Nowell drove the length of the floor after a steal and tossed a no-look reverse pass between his legs right into the waiting hands of N’Guessan who flushed home an emphatic dunk. The arena erupted, and only the halftime buzzer seemed capable of slowing the Cats in that moment.
After trailing for over 13 minutes, the 9-0 run gave K-State a 34-25 lead at the break. But halftime merely segmented the momentum.
OU’s Tanner Groves broke the streak with a layup, his team’s first points in nearly 4 minutes, but K-State got a dunk from Tomlin, a deep three-point make from Nowell, and another dunk from Tomlin to open a 41-27 advantage. The lead ballooned to 53-33 on yet another Tomlin dunk less than five minutes into the half, and from there the Wildcats mostly did what they wanted the rest of the way.
Though Oklahoma crept back within 10, 75-65, and had the ball with two minutes remaining, bearded big man Tanner Groves was whistled for an offensive foul after turning aggressively into Desi Sills on the left side block. Officials went to the monitor and called a flagrant-2 foul for contact to the head, sending Groves to the locker room and Sills to the line. K-State quickly built the lead back to 14, and then it was time for curtain calls.
Fans had been calling for senior walk-on Nate Awbrey, and he entered for the last minute of play. The Manhattan native delighted the crowd by hitting two free throws, and though he missed a jumper attempt a few seconds later, the rebound landed in the hands of senior Abayomi Iyiola, who fittingly dropped it back through the rim for the final 85-69 score.
K-State’s balance was again remarkable. Though it was senior night, and all the seniors had moments to shine, junior Nae’Qwan Tomlin converted several dunks and made both of his three-point attempts to pace the Cats with 19 points. The big man was 8-9 from the floor, and he contributed 5 rebounds and two blocked shots.
Keyontae Johnson scored 16 on 7-12 shooting, including 2-4 from outside. His drive from the elbow and two-handed dunk for K-State’s second field goal of the night seemed to finally shake off the jitters and get the Wildcats into a comfort zone. He also had 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals.
The stat line of the night might have belonged to Desi Sills. After starting K-State’s scoring by doing tough work around the rim and converting 3-of-4 free throws when nothing else was going well on the offensive end for the Cats, Sills went on to score 15, snag 9 rebounds, throw 8 assists, block a shot, and grab 2 steals. Had the game gone on just a little longer, he may have racked up the first-ever triple-double in K-State history.
MarkQuis Nowell buried three long three-pointers and scored 11, to go along with 10 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals. The double-double was the 10th of his career. Nowell now has 230 assists on the season, ranking third nationally in both total assists and assists per game (7.9). The country should really enjoy him on the national stage of the Big Dance.
N’Guessan had 9, and Carter hit two 3-pointers and finished with 7. Every Wildcat who entered the game scored, except for Massoud.
Though they started the night cold, the Wildcats finished 32-60 from the floor (53.3%), including 9-19 (47.4%) from three-point range. They outrebounded Oklahoma 37-26, and had 22 assists and only 12 turnovers. K-State never trailed after the 5:25 mark of the first half, and the rare comfortable margin allowed both final bows and playing time for the supporting cast. In the end, it was Wabash time in the stands for the players and the fans.
Oklahoma’s Milos Uzan scored 20, and Otega Oweh added 18 for the Sooners.
Three in the Key
- The seniors certainly deserve our appreciation for what they have brought to K-State. We already knew we had something special in Nowell, and tonight he showcased skills we are unlikely to see again anytime soon. He has been the tone-setter for this roster, and his influence had much to do with convincing Keyontae Johnson to play at K-State. As for Johnson: Has any player had as much impact at K-State in a single season? One could certainly argue for Michael Beasley. But remember: B’Easy’s team only made the NCAA tournament as an 11-seed. If you believe the hairpiece-wearing sports industry bloviators, this team may get a nod as high as the 2-line. Desi Sills deserves special mention, as well. He exudes the kind of dogged determination that fans admire, and at times when the two stars were bottled up or when K-State just needed someone to make a play (see, for reference, the Cayman Islands Classic and the first four minutes tonight) Sills has always seemed to step up. All of the seniors have contributed in some way. Their biggest collective contribution might be the leap of faith each one of them willingly took by coming help Coach Jerome Tang and his staff launch a new era of K-State basketball.
- About that new era: Can we make it all as much fun as the stretches of fast breaks, amazing passes, and high-flying dunks we saw tonight? Markquis Nowell is a catalyst that may never be matched. But if this style of play becomes K-State’s brand, students may have to reinstitute the campout competition for season tickets that was the norm through the 70’s and 80’s.
- A tough road game at West Virginia remains. While we could rightly complain about the scheduling injustice of going on the road to Morgantown after the Mountaineers played Monday, and the Wildcats two days later, but let’s apply some perspective. The travel Odyssey Huggins’s gang endures every year is brutal, so maybe we should just shut up, this once. Win that game, and K-State is no worse than the 3-seed in the Big 12 Tournament. Lose it? Well, it probably matters very little to the big picture. After being predicted to finish last in the preseason polls, K-State is playing with house money now.