March Madness: Marquis Noel leads Kansas State past Kentucky, to the Sweet 16

Marquis Noel did not let his team lose.

Noel, the 5-foot-8 point guard for Kansas State, had one of the best performances in the NCAA tournament in a 75-69 thrashing of Kentucky on Sunday in Greensboro.

Whether he was hitting 3-pointers from the midcourt pennant or hitting highlight-ball passes on teammates, Noel had a counterpunch for every hit Kentucky fielded. He finished with 27 points, nine assists and three steals to send Kentucky home and bring Kansas State to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018.

In a game where his team struggled to make outside jumps, the speedy Noel was able to break through the UK defense and navigate through the trees. Even as a senior man in the US state of Kentucky Oscar Chibuy Dominating the glass, Noel’s ability to reach and plate for teammates kept Kansas State afloat during a poor 0-for-12 shooting performance in the first half from outside the arc.

K-State’s defense helped, too. Kentucky turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, but came out with a renewed focus to open the second half. K-State led 29-26 at halftime, but Kentucky opened the second half 13-0. Kentucky, a team that struggles in half-court offense, came out in the break and was getting plenty of easy buckets in the transition.

After taking a halftime lead, K-State’s lead quickly turned into a 39-31 deficit less than four minutes into the first half.

But Kansas State will not be deterred. K-State was picked to finish last in the Big 12 entering Jerome Tang’s first season as head coach, but this team has consistently exceeded expectations. How far is Kentucky eight points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament?

K-State responded with an 8-0 run of its own, which led to a even game through the last 13 minutes of regulation.

But the Kansas State team offered more puns in that direction. Nowell drilled a 3 from the logo to tie the game at 54-54 with 6:10 to play. A few minutes later, after Kentucky took a four-point lead, Noel made a three-step-back to cut the UK lead to 60-59 with 3:33 remaining.

Noel later hit two free throws to put his team ahead and assisted on three pointers by Ismail Masoud and Keyontae Johnson This puts K-State ahead forever.

Johnson’s step back at the 1:23 mark was the stiletto.

While Noel led the way, Johnson was one of three others to score in double figures for Kansas State. Johnson scored 13 points, while Desi Sales and Niquan Tomlin each scored 12 points.

On the Kentucky side, Chibui posted 25 points and 18 rebounds in what may be his last game in a college uniform. Casson Wallace scored 21 points and nine rebounds and Chris Livingston scored 11 but Antonio Reeves had a tough afternoon.

Reeves, the UK’s second highest scorer and best outside kicker, finished a miserable 1-in-15 goal from the field, including a 1-in-10 mark from outside the arc. The only shot he took was the last, a 3-pointer with only six seconds remaining on the clock.

Kentucky was only 4 of 20 on 3-pointers and finished the game with 16 costly turnovers.

GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA – MARCH 19: Marquis Noel #1 of the Kansas State Wildcats reacts during halftime against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at The Fieldhouse at Greensboro Coliseum on March 19, 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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