The opening game of the Sweet 16 delivered the best game of the 2023 NCAA Tournament so far and fittingly ended with the first overtime finish of March Madness as No. 3 seed Kansas State edged No. 7 seed Michigan State in a 98-93 thriller inside Madison Square Garden. With the victory, the Wildcats, who were picked to finish last in the Big 12 in the preseason, punched their first ticket to the Elite Eight since 2018.
Kansas State played with the lead for most of the game before letting Michigan State creep back in the second half to force an extra period, but behind an historic outing from Wildcats guard Markquis Nowell, KSU grabbed the lead with just under one minute remaining in overtime and held on for the victory.
Nowell put together one of the most fabulous individual performances in NCAA Tournament history in pacing Kansas State to a narrow victory, breaking Mark Wade's long-held record of more than three decades for most assists in an NCAA Tournament game (18) with 19 total dimes. He finished with 20 points to buttress his stellar showing and clinched the game with a steal and layup at the buzzer for good measure.
OH MY, MARKQUIS NOWELL 🤩— CBS Sports College Basketball 🏀 (@CBSSportsCBB) March 24, 2023
HE JUST SENT @KStateMBB TO THE ELITE EIGHT! pic.twitter.com/14EzyZpSmD
"It was a place of fire," said first-year K-State coach Jerome Tang postgame on TBS. "But we practice in a place of fire all the time. So [Markquis Nowell] was ready for it. That's a bad boy right there."
Nowell tied the NCAA Tournament record for assists with just under one minute to play in the second half on an old-fashioned okie-doke given to the Sparty defense. At the top of the key, he looked over at Tang as if he the two were talking through what set the team would run ... all while Keyontae Johnson cut to the rim for an alley-oop that Nowell delivered at the right place at just the right time.
MARKQUIS NOWELL TIES THE NCAA RECORD 18 ASSISTS ON THIS FEED TO KEYONTAE JOHNSON 🤩 @KStateMBB pic.twitter.com/R3V53W8wmO— CBS Sports College Basketball 🏀 (@CBSSportsCBB) March 24, 2023
"It was just a basketball play between me and Keyontae," said Nowell after the game. "We knew how Michigan State played defense. They play high up. We made eye contact and he was like 'lob, lob.' I just threw it up. He made a great play."
Added Johnson: "Michigan State does a lot of ball-watching. So [Markquis Nowell] is always telling me when he drives he'll look for me."
Kansas State raced out to a 43-38 halftime lead behind Nowell's 10 first-half assists, but after appearing to injure his ankle midway through the second half, Sparty mounted their charge to tighten things up. Nowell got a fresh tape job and instantly went back to impacting the game with his regular heroics, turning what was nearly a turnover into one of the best highlights of the postseason.
WHAT A SHOT, MARKQUIS NOWELL 🤩 @KStateMBB pic.twitter.com/jn66OtPi7T— CBS Sports College Basketball 🏀 (@CBSSportsCBB) March 24, 2023
Kansas State also got big production from Johnson and Ismael Massoud as the duo added 22 points and 15 points, respectively. The Wildcats staved off a deep and balanced effort from the Spartans, whose five starters all finished in double figures in scoring, led by AJ Hoggard's 25 and Joey Hauser's 18. New York native Tyson Walker, who finished with 16 points, had 11 of those in the second half and overtime and forced the extra period with a clutch off-the-glass layup in the second half.
"Give [Kansas State] credit," Izzo said on TBS immediately following the loss. "They banked in two shot clock 3s. They made some big platys, but some of those big plays weren't big plays, they were lucky plays."
The win for Kansas State moved it the East Regional final where it will face the winner of Florida Atlantic and Tennessee on Saturday with a chance to make its first Final Four appearance since 1964.