Wildcats advance to Cayman Islands championship in thriller

KSU defeated UTRGV 93-59 on Nov. 7. at Bramlage Colosseum (Archive photo by Reece Bachta | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State men’s basketball battled with the Nevada Wolfpack beyond regulation in a 96-87 overtime victory that punched their ticket to the Cayman Island Classic Championship. 

The Wildcats jumped ahead early, leading 10-4 after consecutive three-pointers fell for sophomore guard Cam Carter. However, the Wolfpack quickly responded and would lead for the majority of an offensively dominated but tightly contested first half. 

K-State would make strong campaigns to regain the lead, but Nevada had an answer nearly every time. The Wildcats headed to the locker room facing a deficit for the first time this season, down 38-36. 

Coming out of the locker room, the Wolfpack lead quickly grew to seven. But much like Nevada’s early response, K-State would come right back. Nevada switched to a zone defense, allowing the Wildcats to find open spots for shots to begin falling.

A 3-pointer by senior guard Markquis Nowell opened a run that finished with K-State taking a lead on another 3-pointer by senior forward Keyontae Johnson. K-State led by four just before the 12-minute mark.

After that point, the path to Wildcat victory was simple: wear down the Wolfpack and maintain a lead. For the most part, K-State executed that game plan. The Wolfpack led once between the nine and one-minute mark, but it was quickly followed by a 3-pointer from junior forward Nae’Qwan Tomlin. The second half, much like the first, was a very tight matchup. 

Enter Nowell. The 5-foot-8-inch guard, who pins “heart over height” on his Twitter, stood tall and took the game over. He confidently drained a 3-pointer, turning around before he could watch it fall into the net. Following that shot was a gutsy drive and layup in the paint. K-State led by nine.

Once again, the trailing opponent in this game fought back. Nevada spotted those nine points in less than two minutes of game clock. The Wolfpack even had K-State on the ropes in what looked to be a heartbreaking last-minute collapse.

Re-enter Nowell. Eleven seconds remained for K-State to keep their hopes of playing another day in the Cayman Islands. Nowell succeeded where the Wildcats severely struggled last season – last-second drives with a game on the line. He put his team and their hopes on his back as he slithered through the pack of wolves and sent the Wildcats to overtime with an acrobatic layup.

Nowell didn’t stop in overtime either. He opened the scoring with another layup, the first of his nine overtime points. Those nine points were over half of the team’s overtime total that would lead the Wildcats to victory. Nowell’s performance, along with two Nevada players fouling out early, allowed the Wildcats to command the final five minutes.

Nowell recorded the less common double-double featuring assists as he tallied 11 assists and 29 points. Nearly joining him with a double-double was Johnson who recorded nine rebounds and 28 points. 

This game will go down as a very memorable one for the Wildcats in their first season under coach Jerome Tang. The hard-fought and fulfilling victory contrasts directly with the frequent heartbreaks of last season. 

K-State will take LSU in the Cayman Island Classic Championship at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 23.