NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. – Despite a valiant effort from senior point Markquis Nowell, it was a late 15-1 run by No. 25/25 Florida Atlantic that proved to be the difference as the 9-seed Owls advanced to their first Final Four with a 79-76 win over 3-seed Kansas State on Saturday night in the finals of the East Regional before 19,680 fans at Madison Square Garden.
Nowell, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the East Regional, finished with just the second 30-point, 10-assist game in school history, as he led the way with game-highs in points (30), assists (12) and steals (5) in playing all 40 minutes in his final college game. He is the first player with at least 25 points and 10 assists in a game in the Elite Eight or later since Marquette’s Dwayne Wade in 2003, while he is the first since Illinois’ Deron Williams in 2005 with 50 assists in a single NCAA Tournament.
“I’m very grateful,” said Nowell. “I had a tremendous year with my teammates and my coaching staff. I had a lot of fun. Just looking back at how hard we worked to get to this point, I’m just thankful for the journey. I’m thankful for my teammates and everybody behind the scenes. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Nowell was joined on the all-tournament team by teammate Keyontae Johnson, who was plagued by foul trouble all night before fouling out with 2:44 to play with just 9 points in 18 minutes. Junior Nae’Qwan Tomlin was the only other Wildcat in double figure with 14 points on 6-of-11 field goals to go with 6 rebounds.
With K-State seemingly gaining control after a 3-pointer from Nowell gave the Wildcats a 63-57 lead with 8:39 to play, it was Florida Atlantic (35-3) that responded with a 15-1 run to flip the deficit into a 72-64 lead with 2:44 remaining. The Owls scored 10 straight points after the Nowell 3-pointer, taking the lead for good on dunk by sophomore Vladislav Goldin with 6:12 left.
Despite the momentum and without their leading scorer, Nowell and company continued to fight, using a 10-4 run that was highlighted by 3-pointers from Nowell and sophomore Cam Carter, to pull within 75-74 with 24 seconds left. However, FAU senior Michael Forrest knocked down down a pair of free throws with 17 seconds then after a Tomlin layup got K-State to within 77-76 with 8 seconds he calmly knocked down 2 more for the final margin.
For the game, K-State connected on 46.6 percent (27-of-58) from the field, including 45.5 percent (10-of-22) from 3-point range, while making 66.7 percent (12-of-18) from the line. FAU hit on 48.1 percent (26-of-54) from the field, including 39.1 percent (9-of-23) from long range, and 81.8 percent (18-of-22) from the line.
In a game where both teams shot nearly the same from the field, it was the rebounding that proved to the deciding factor for the Owls, as they held a 44-22 advantage on the glass, including 14 offensive rebounds that they converted into a 15-2 edge in second-chance points.
Four FAU players scored in double figures led by 17 by sophomore Alijah Martin, who went 6-of-11 from the field, including 3-of-7 from 3-point range, while junior Bryan Greenlee, added 16 points on 4-of-7 field goals and 4-of-5 free throws. Goldin had a double-double with 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
The loss ends a tremendous season by K-State (26-10), which was picked to finish dead last in the Big 12 Preseason poll before collecting the third-most wins (26) in school history and advancing to its 13th Elite Eight and first since 2018 in head coach Jerome Tang‘s first season.
“In the midst of probably one of the toughest things that I experienced with these guys, if we can’t be grateful in these times, then all the love and joy that we talk about is fraud, and we’re not frauds,” said Tang. “This hurts right now, but I wouldn’t trade these guys for 10 players, 10 others or 20 others. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. So very thankful for the fun and the ride that we’ve had this year.”
Nowell finishes his college career with 18 points/assists double-doubles, while extending his school career (13) and single season (10) records in the category. He also set the school single season marks for both assists (297) and steals (97), while his 633 points are the most since Jacob Pullen scored 626 points in 2010-11.
Nowell (633) and Johnson (627) become the first Wildcat teammate to eclipse 600 or more points in the same season since Pullen and Denis Clemente in 2009-10.
In addition to posting the third-most wins in school history, the Wildcats set the single season record for assists (611), while collecting the second-most points (2,742), field goals made (961), 3-point field goals made (258) and steals (289) in a single season.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Florida Atlantic opened the scoring out of the gate with a 3-pointer just seconds after winning the opening tip. Senior Keyontae Johnson scored K-State’s first points with a jumper at 17:34 mark, which was followed by a steal and driving layup by sophomore Cam Carter. The teams went back and forth over the next few minutes with senior Desi Sills giving the Wildcats’ their first 3-pointer for a 7-5 lead before the Owls knotted the game at 7-all right before the first media timeout.
Moments after FAU took a 10-7 lead on its second triple, K-State used a 9-2 run to take a 16-12 lead, which was capped by a 3-point play by senior Markquis Nowell with 13:27 to play before halftime. However, the Owls answered with a 12-2 run to retake the lead and extend it to 24-18 with just over 10 to play.
The Wildcats were able to cut into the deficit at 24-22 with a 4-0 spurt, which included a driving layup by Sills and a steal and dunk by senior Abayomi Iyiola. But the Owls were able to regain the momentum with a 7-2 response capped by another 3-pointer to push ahead 31-24 at the 6:46 mark.
The game of runs continued, as Nowell keyed a 10-3 spurt by K-State that tied the game at 34-all at the last media timeout of the half with 4 to play. The senior scored 8 of the 10 points in the run, including a 3-pointer and 5 free throws. However, as expected, FAU responded in kind, using an 8-4 run to take a 42-38 lead in the halftime break.
As expected, the runs continued in the second half, as K-State opened with 6 straight points to take a 44-42 lead but was followed by a 5 in a row from FAU to regain the lead at 47-44.
A basket by junior David N’Guessan sparked a 13-3 run by the Wildcats that gave them a 57-50 lead at the second media timeout with 11:36 to play. The spurt included a pair of 3-pointers from Nowell, another triple from Johnson and a layup by junior Nae’Qwan Tomlin. The Owls were able to use a run of their own, scoring 8 in a row to retake the lead at 65-63 just after the third media timeout with 5:36 remaining.
The run grew to 10 straight out of the timeout, as FAU knocked down 2-of-3 free throws after a foul on Tomlin to push ahead 67-63 just after the last media timeout with 4 to play. After a free throw by Nowell broke the run, the Owls continued to build their lead to 72-64 with a 5-0 spurt with just 2:30 remaining.
K-State made one last run, using a 10-4 run to close to within 75-74 with 24 seconds remaining after a 3-pointer by Carter. However, FAU was able to knock down 4 free throws to end the game.
IN THEIR WORDS
Head Coach Jerome Tang
On the game…
“First of all, I just want to thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ. In the midst of probably one of the toughest things that I experience with these guys, if we can’t be grateful in these times, then all the love and joy that we talk about is fraud, and we’re not frauds. I want to give FAU and Coach a lot of credit. They did a great job. They were tough. They were together. They made big shots. They won the game. Okay, they won the game. This hurts right now, but I wouldn’t trade these guys for 10 players, 10 others or 20 others. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. So very thankful for the fun and the ride that we’ve had this year.”
On the rebounding…
“Rebounding has been an issue for us all year, and we tried to make it tough for them. We tried to front them. They did a great job of lobbing it over to him. So, they would play behind. He did a good job of scoring some buckets. I didn’t think he was the difference. I didn’t think he could score 20, so I wasn’t concerned with it. I was more concerned with the other guys. But the other guys delivered, too.”
On what makes Florida Atlantic so tough…
“Well, when you draw up plays with X’s and O’s, on some teams, all the O’s don’t have to be guarded so you can put your X’s in the right spot to make it hard for the team to score on offense. Every one of his O’s can score the ball, and that’s what makes it hard to guard. It doesn’t matter if they can score 30; they can all shoot, they can all dribble, they can all pass, and that puts your defense in a bind.”
On perspective after a loss like this…
“Yeah, you know, when this happens — this is the third time I’ve lost in the Elite Eight, and you can sit around and mope and cry about it, or you can really think about the love and the joy that you’ve had through the season. And winners keep their heads up. They don’t drop their heads. So, our guys were not going to walk off the floor with their heads down. We’re going to approach — tough things are going to happen in our life, and we don’t get to wallow in it. We’ve got to keep moving forward. This is more of a lesson for them of becoming men than it is about basketball.”
Senior Markquis Nowell
On his senior season…
“I’m very grateful. I had a tremendous year with my teammates and my coaching staff. Had a lot of fun. Just looking back at how hard we worked to get to this point, man, I’m just thankful for the journey. I’m thankful for my teammates and everybody behind the scenes. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
On that feeling when the buzzer sounded and you knew you weren’t able to get off a shot…
“I was trying to get Ish a shot. Coach wanted Ish to set the screen, and I waved it off because I felt like on the right side of the court, that’s where Ish hits most of his shots. And they closed out hard to him, and he didn’t get off his shot. When that final buzzer hit, it was a little tough because I love these guys so much that I want to continue to keep playing for the rest of my life with them. It was tough, but I’m truly honored. I’m truly blessed and grateful to have a family.”
On having two dominant performances in Madison Square Garden…
“I’m happy and grateful that I got the opportunity to play in Madison Square Garden. I always dreamed of something like this, just playing here, being here, playing my heart out. I feel like I gave my heart and soul to this game for these past couple games because I wanted to see these guys win and smile and know what the standard is for winning. We have a younger group of guys that we have in our locker room, and the standard is hard to win. Winning isn’t easy. To see that we made a deep tournament run with that young core group, I’m just excited to see where they’ll come in years ahead. It’s just a blessing, man. I gave my heart and soul to this university, to this team. I maximized everything I had inside of me to see these guys happy.”
On having momentum after his 3-pointer with less than 9 minutes to play…
“Yeah, I feel like that shot gave us a little momentum, but I don’t feel like we got the defensive stops that we really needed. I don’t feel like we got key rebounds that we really needed. And give a lot of credit to FAU for getting every single 50/50 ball. There were guys diving on the floor, jumping out of bounds, crashing on the free throw. Give a lot of credit to them. I’m sure they’re happy, and I wish them much success.”
On the disappointment of coming so close to the Final Four…
“It’s a tough feeling. Our guys gave it all. The coaching staff came up with a tremendous game plan. We fell short. I mean, it happens in basketball. These guys are going to work hard this off-season, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to come out with a chip on their shoulder next year. But we can’t explain it.”
Senior Nae’Qwan Tomlin
On that feeling when the buzzer sounded, and you knew you couldn’t get off a shot…
“I’m thankful, as well. We had a hell of a season. I’m just glad that we made it this far. Even though this is not what we wanted to stop at, but I’m just grateful that I’m here with my teammates.”
BEYOND THE BOXSCORE
- K-State sees its season end at 26-10, as the Wildcats fall to Florida Atlantic, 79-76, in the Elite Eight.
- K-State is now 40-36 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including 3-11 in the Regional Finals, 6-5 in the East Regional and 3-1 as a No. 3 seed… The Wildcats have lost 9 straight in the Regional Finals.
- K-State’s 26 wins are the third-most in a single season, trailing the 29 in 2009-10 and the 27 in 2012-13… It is the eighth 25-win season or better in school history.
- The 26 wins by head coach Jerome Tang are the second-most by first-year head coach in school history, trailing the 27 by Bruce Weber in 2012-13.
- K-State finishes with the single-season record for assists (611), while collecting the second-most points (2,742), field goals made (961), 3-point field goals made (258) and steals (289) in a single season.
- The 76 points came on 46.6 percent (27-of-58) shooting, including 45.5 percent (10-of-22) from 3-point range, while connecting on 66.7 percent (12-of-18) from the free throw line.
- K-State now has double-digit made 3-point field goals in 8 games this season.
- K-State forced FAU into 22 turnovers, scoring 30 points off those miscues.
- K-State is now 20-3 when having equal or less turnovers than its opponents.
- K-State registered a season-tying 13 steals, which marked the 10th time with double-digit steals on the season… The team now has 289 steals on the season, which is the second-most in school history.
- FAU had a 44-22 advantage on the glass, including 14 offensive rebounds which resulted in 15 second-chance points… K-State is now 6-5 when losing the rebounding battle.
- FAU led 42-38 at the half on the strength of an 8-4 half-ending run… The Owls shot 53.6 percent (15-of-28) from the field compared to 46.7 percent (14-of-30)… Senior Markquis Nowell led all scorers with 15 points and 7 assists…
- K-State is now 9-7 this season when trailing at the half.
- Senior Markquis Nowell was named the East Regional Most Outstanding Player and was joined on the East Regional All-Tournament Team with fellow senior Keyontae Johnson.
- Nowell is the school’s first Regional Most Outstanding Player since Chuckie Williams in 1975.
- Nowell posted just the second 30-point, 10-assist game in school history (he owns both) with a game-high 30 points on 8-of-21 field goals, including 5-of-11 from 3-point range, with 12 assists and 5 steals… He played all 40 minutes… He finishes his college career with 18 career double-doubles, including a school-record 13 in his career at K-State and 10 this season.
- It was the sixth 30-point game of Nowell’s college career, including his third at K-State… He has now scored in double figures in 99 career games, including 52 in his K-State career and 33 this season.
- Nowell is the first player with at least 25 points and 10 assists in an Elite Eight or later since Marquette’s Dwayne Wade in 2003, while he is the first player since Deron Williams in 2005 with at least 50 assists in a single NCAA Tournament.
- Nowell averaged 23.5 points and 13.5 assists in his 4 games in the NCAA Tournament, becoming just the second player to average at least 20 points and 10 assists in a single tournament, joining Ja Morant.
- Nowell (633) and Johnson (627) are the first Wildcat duo to each eclipse 600 points in the same season since Jacob Pullen (715) and Denis Clemente (613).
- Junior Nae’Qwan Tomlin also registered double figures with 14 points on 6-of-11 field goals to go with 6 rebounds and 2 steals in 34 minutes… He scored in double figures in 21 games.
- Johnson and fellow senior Desi Sills each finished with 9 points… It was just the second game this season that Johnson did not reach double figures, doing it in 34 of 36 games.