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College Basketball

Markquis Nowell Doesn’t Get Discouraged

Markquis Nowell passes the ball
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

If you have watched Kansas State basketball this year, you've noticed Markquis Nowell. For one thing, the point guard is the shortest guy on every floor at just 5-foot-8. For another, Nowell's always in the game, playing a conference-high 94.8 percent of KSU's minutes in Big 12 contests. And for a third, it feels like the dude is constantly handling the ball. Again and again, whether he's hot or he's cold, Nowell tosses up all kinds of shots with absolute confidence that they'll fall. It's not that he's a particularly outstanding shooter—he's at 38.6 percent from the field this year and 35.1 percent from three. But with the number of long-range attempts Nowell takes per game, and the 7.8 assists he averages, plus his very reliable conversion rate at the free-throw stripe, and his Big 12-best 2.4 steals, this underdog leader holds the K-State attack in his hands.

Keyontae Johnson, an incredible comeback story who transferred in from Florida this year, is the more consistent offensive presence for this Wildcats team that just made the Sweet 16. But Nowell is the bellwether, and as his shooting goes, so goes Kansas State's fortunes. Sometimes this is bad news. When the team lost its first game of the Big 12 tournament to TCU, Nowell was one-of-nine from three and had as many turnovers as assists. In back-to-back losses last month versus Texas Tech and Oklahoma, he was a combined 3-of-19 beyond the arc, with 10 dimes against 11 turnovers. Games like those might intimidate a player the next time out. But just as Nowell wasn't afraid to transfer into the Big 12 as an undersized point guard at Little Rock, he's never been worried about a slump sticking around.

That stubborn personality trait came in very handy for KSU as they fought off Kentucky in a nail-biter on Sunday. With 16:21 to go in the game, K-State trailed 39-31; Nowell had been unsteady up to that point. His passing had opened up opportunities inside in the first half, but in keeping with the rest of his cold KSU shooters he missed both his threes and only made a couple layups. Early in the second, immediately after Kentucky scored points off Nowell turnovers on two out of three KSU possessions, the point guard turned up his aggressiveness and slowly changed the course of the game. He got a steal that led to a Desi Sills two. He got a rebound that he turned into his first three of the game, which tied it at 39. He drove and passed, then drove and lofted it in. He threw a no-look out of a double-team. And with UK still holding a slim lead, with six minutes to play, he had the guts to send this in from the logo.

Again, after Kentucky mounted its response, he drew to within one even while giving up eight inches to Cason Wallace.

In the final three minutes, Nowell had two assists on K-State three-pointers and was perfect on his eight free throws. In finishing out this win, he now gets to return home to New York City and play Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.

“I can’t even say I’m impressed because that is what he does,” his teammate Cam Carter said. “He is a dog and makes dog plays. I guarantee you he is going to keep doing it.”

This was not a Kansas State team that came in with lofty expectations. They hadn't made the tournament at all since 2019 and went 6-12 in their conference last year. New head coach Jerome Tang had to navigate a ton of roster turnover in the summer. Even heading into the tournament, sharing a quadrant with Purdue, Duke, Tennessee, Kentucky, Marquette, and MSU, coming off back-to-back losses and posting underwhelming scoring margins, this wasn't the Big 12 team that most had their eye on. But along with Texas, they're one of only two remaining from the country's toughest conference. Tang has a reason why.

“We got dudes,” he said in the postgame. “That's what it takes. I mean, people get all caught up in the coaching and all of that stuff. It's dudes.”

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