Manhattan to Big Apple, K-State tastes Sweet 16 vs Michigan St.

NEW YORK — Standing on the scorer’s table with a microphone after Kansas State stunned visiting Kansas in overtime, Wildcats coach Jerome Tang led the crowd in a chant of “K-S-U!” It was what he said next that stayed with people, inside and outside of Manhattan, Kan.

“I told y’all, you get one court storming,” Tang said Jan. 17. “From here on out, expect to win.”

From the Little Apple to the Big one, third-seeded Kansas State arrives for the Sweet 16, extending Tang’s first season as coach. The Wildcats will take on seventh-seeded Michigan State on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

Kansas State (25-9) defeated sixth-seeded Kentucky 75-69 in Sunday’s second-round NCAA Tournament game to reach the East Region semifinals. It marks the program’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2018 and just its third since the 1980s.

Tang was an assistant and associate head coach at Baylor for 20 years before getting the chance to run his own Big 12 program. He had to assemble most of the current roster through the transfer portal, with only two players returning last year’s squad. That included landing feel-good story Keyontae Johnson, who collapsed on the court while playing for Florida in 2020 and worked hard to resume his basketball career.

“People get all caught up in the coaching and all of that stuff. It’s dudes,” Tang said. “You got to have players, and these dudes, they work. They’ve put in the time.”

Markquis Nowell, Kansas State’s third-team All-American and first-team All-Big 12 point guard, gets to return to his hometown. Nowell grew up in the Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem and goes by @MrNewYorkCityy on Twitter.

Nowell’s 27 points, nine assists and three steals powered Kansas State against Kentucky. His 3-pointer trimmed his team’s deficit to 60-59 with 3:33 left, and he went 8-for-8 from the foul line in the final three minutes.

“I was just in attack mode the second half because I seen how they were playing me,” Nowell said. “They were playing me for the pass because I dropped a lot of dimes in the first half. I tried to look for my own shot a little bit more and be more aggressive, and I wanted to go to New York.”

He won’t be the only New York guard hoping for a big game at MSG. Michigan State’s Tyson Walker is from Long Island and attended high school in Queens.

“It means everything,” Walker said of returning to New York. “Just growing up, seeing everything, playing at the Garden. It means a lot. Just to make those shots look over see my dad, see how excited he was. That means everything.”

The matchup will also pit a first-year head coach against one of the most successful coaches in tournament history.

Tom Izzo led Michigan State (21-12) past Big East champion and No. 2 seed Marquette 69-60 on Sunday to advance to the regional. It was Izzo’s record-setting 16th NCAA Tournament win against a team with a higher seed.

“My staff did an unbelievable job,” Izzo said. “When you have a two-day prep against a team like this — and trust me, that is a real good basketball team. (They could) play in any league and they’re really good.”

The Spartans continually fended off the Golden Eagles’ attempts to come back from a slim deficit over the final nine minutes. Walker scored 23 points and dunked for the first time in his college career.

It won’t be the Spartans’ first visit to MSG this year — they lost to Rutgers there Feb. 4 — but this one will be much more meaningful.

“I just owe coach some pizza now,” Walker said. “And a cab ride.”

–By Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media