By STEVE REED AP Sports Writer
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Markquis Nowell had 17 points and 14 assists and No. 3 seed Kansas State held off 14th-seeded Montana State 77-65 Friday night for its first NCAA Tournament win since knocking off Kentucky in 2018 to reach the Elite Eight.
Now the two Wildcat programs will meet again in a rematch on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky, the sixth seed, defeated No. 11 Providence 61-53 in the earlier game.
Kentucky fans packed the Greensboro Coliseum for the first game, and they are likely to provide a home-court advantage of sorts.
But first-year Kansas State coach Jerome Tang isn’t expected to be intimidated. Tang was an assistant coach on the Baylor staff that ended Kentucky’s 55-game win streak at Rupp Arena in 2012. The Bears also beat Kentucky in two neutral site games, and he feels K-State will have plenty of support.
“I understand how the Cats travel, but our Cats travel, too,” Tang said.
Nowell and fellow third-team Associated Press All-American Keyontae Johnson, who had 18 points and eight rebounds, proved too much for the Bobcats to handle. Nowell’s used his quickness to create shots for himself and his teammates and Montana State didn’t have anyone physical enough to guard Johnson.
“We don’t have too many guys like that in our league,” Montana State coach Danny Sprinkle said.
RaeQuan Battle had 26 points on 9 of 17 shooting for Montana State (25-10), which had its eight-game win steak snapped.
Montana State simply didn’t have the size to hang with Kansas State, who outscored the Bobcats 48-30 in the paint.
“It’s a big emphasis on getting to the paint,” Johnson 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.”
Kansas State (24-9) led Montana State 34-28 at the break, and the Wildcats stretched the lead to 13 with 11 minutes remaining when Desi Sills scoring on a layup off an inbounds pass under his own basket after a botched defensive assignment.
Montana State went to a 1-3-1 defense, which disrupted the Wildcats for a short time and helped cut the lead to eight before Nowell buried a deep 3-pointer from the left wing and Nae’Qwan Tomlin scored off a lob to push the lead back to 13.
Montana State wouldn’t quit though, with Darius Brown knocking down a 3 with 2:44 left.
But Tomlin, who finished with 13 points, answered with another dunk off after Nowell threaded the needle with his 14th assist, tying a personal career best and establishing a record for the most ever by a Kansas State player in an NCAA Tournament game.
“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.”
David N’Guessan added two two technical foul free throws and then scored on an inside layup. Sills punctuated the win with a breakaway left-handed dunk giving the Wildcats a 16-point lead.
Montana State: The Bobcats were looking for a better showing after losing by 35 points in the opening round of last year’s tournament to Texas Tech and they got it. The Big Sky champions showed they can compete on the NCAA Tournament stage but in the end didn’t have the size to compete with the Wildcats. “We just kept battling back and battling back and battling back. We couldn’t get over that hump tonight,” Sprinkle said.
Kansas State: The Wildcats had some concerns coming into the tournament after back-to-back losses to West Virginia and TCU. It was a struggle at times, but the Wildcats finished with a flurry to seal the win.
Kansas State beat Kentucky 61-58 on March 22, 2018, for its first win over those Wildcats in 10 tries.
By STEVE REED AP Sports Writer