The Kansas State Wildcats are headed to the round of 32 after taking care of business against a game Montana State team, 77-65.
K-State, per usual, were led by the dynamic duo of Markquis Nowll and Keyontae Johnson. Both played up to their All-American billing. Nowell dominated the game from the point, dishing out 14 assists with aplomb and putting up 17 points with a combination of death defying drives and 3’s most players would get pulled for attempting. Johnson led the Wildcats in scoring despite not hitting a three. He attacked any slight crack in the Bobcat’s defense, getting to the rim at will and hitting mid-range jumpers at will.
In addition to Jerome Tang’s two All-Americans, Nae’Quan Tomlin, translated his immense natural talent into points. He was great in the second half, putting up all of his 13 points in the second stanza. It looked like Montana State was going to attempt one more run under 3 minutes, but a thunderous Tomlin dunk sent the Bobcats back into the woods.
The Bobcat’s effervescent star, Raequan Battle did everything he could to keep his team in the game, going off for 28 points on 9-17 shooting, including a 3-5 effort from behind the arc. Despite his heroics, he couldn’t get another Montana State player to come along with him. The ‘Cats held Jubrile Belo, Battle’s normal partner in basketball crime, to 5 points on 1-4 shooting. The Bobcats needed big performances from both Battle and Belo, and only got half of the equation.
The game was close throughout, but it always felt like Jerome Tang’s Crew were in contol. The first 10 minutes of the game was a back and forth affair, with both teams feeling each other out. A Battle layup tied the game at 16 with 9:59 remaining in the first half, but the cats dominated the final 10 minutes. A Nowell layup with stretched the ‘Cats lead to 9 points, 34-25 with a minute remaining in the half before The Bobs pulled back 3 points in the last 60 seconds.
The Wildcats took a 34-28 point lead into the half.
The second was more of the same. K-State would push the lead out to double digits, only to have Montana State find a way to hang in the game. 5 minutes into the half, the ‘Cats added a point to their halftime lead with the help of 6 Tomlin points, 44-36. The next five minutes were relatively uneventful, which was fine for Kansas State. They added five points while the Bobs could only manage a free throw, stretching the lead to 49-37.
The last 10 minutes of the game featured an offensive explosion from both squads. With five minutes remaining in the game, K-State continued to control the game, but Montana State cut the lead to 8 points, 60-52, and looked poised to make one final push in the final 5 minutes of the game. That push never materialized, as 5 points from Tomlin, followed by a 4 point run by David N’Guessan pushed the lead to 73-59 with 2:13 remaining. The Bobcats added another 6 points to their total, but it was too little, much too late. When the final buzzer sounded, Kansas State walked off the floor with a comfortable 12 point victory, and Coach Tang walked off the floor with his first NCAA Tournament win as a head coach.
The win sets up a match-up with a 6 seed vs 3 seed cat fight on Sunday. The purple Wildcats take on the blue Wildcats in a rematch of their epic 2018 tournament match-up that saw the purple cats prevail 61-58 in the Sweet 16.
I’ll see y’all on Sunday and Go Cats. I’ve always been a Kansas State fan and any rumor you hear swirling around the internet of my Purdue fandom is a bald faced lie.