Marques Noel’s big second inning of Kansas State pushed Kentucky to the Sweet 16

GREENSBORO, NC — Marquis Noel scored 23 of his 27 points after halftime, and Kansas State overcame a dreadful outside start by hitting two of three-pointers as they edged Kentucky 75-69 in Sunday’s second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The win sends the third-seeded Wildcats (25-9) to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018, and it came thanks to a series of big shots that finally propelled them into a tight game.

They will play the winner of the Michigan State Semifinals – Marquette in the Eastern Conference.

Kansas State missed 13 of its first three-pointers and sat at 2-for-17 in the game as outside shooting began to fall behind.

There was Noel burying a step back 3 against Casson Wallace to bring Kansas State up at 60-59, followed a little later by Ismail Masood burying one from the right wing at the 2:21 mark giving Kansas State the lead for good at 64-62.

Marquis Noel of Kansas State reacts against the Kentucky Wildcats.
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Keyontae Johnson added one more from this side of the field in front of the Kansas State bench, pushing the lead to 67-62 with 1:23 left — sending a jolt with the kind of margin that felt huge considering nearly all of the second half was played within four points.

The 5-foot-8 Noel, a third-team Associated Press All-American, played a gritty ground game while shooting 7 of 14 shots and 10 of 11 on free throws.

The Harlem native also hit three seconds, including the first on Kentucky’s Oscar Cheppui after a 0-for-13 start at Kansas State and another after halftime with his left foot on the “March Madness” catchphrase near midcourt.

Chibui scored 25 points and grabbed 18 rebounds for sixth seed Kentucky (22-12), who shot 55 percent after the end of the first half and advanced by eight points at the beginning of the second half. But the Wildcats could never stretch that, and then couldn’t make their big outside shots (4 for 20 for the game) to answer when Kansas State made their move.

Consider it the latest chapter in a string of surprisingly quick success for Kansas State under first-year head coach Jerome Tang, who left Baylor after longtime Scott Drew’s staff to take over for Manhattan.

Desi Sills celebrates Kansas State's victory over Kentucky to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Desi Sills celebrates Kansas State’s victory over Kentucky to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
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He inherited a program that hadn’t made it to a tournament since 2019, was coming off three straight losing seasons and was picked to finish last in the Big 12.

However, after a summer of roster reshuffling through the transfer gate, the Wildcats built early confidence and immediately thrived — and now, that’s what got them into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

The bet was paid in several ways on Sunday.

There was Johnson, who transferred from Florida after collapsing in a game in December 2020 and hasn’t played since before resuming his career with Kansas State.

There was Virginia Tech’s big transfer man, David N’Guessan, who played several late possessions with his right heel of his boot—yet he still had offensive rebound information that led to Johnson.

And there was Massoud, who moved from Wake Forest to Kansas State before Tang arrived and has stuck around this year. Playing about a 30-minute drive from his first stop in college, he didn’t score before hitting that whopping 3.

Keyontae Johnson shooting against Oscar Chipui during the second half in the second round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
Keyontae Johnson shooting against Oscar Chipui during the second half in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
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For the other group of Wildcats, it marked another earlier-than-expected exit from March Madness.

Tshiebwe grabbed 25 rebounds in a first-round win over Providence for the most in any championship game since 1977, and was a two-time AP All-American again a power inside. Wallace had 15 of his 21 points after halftime, including several times when the rookie guard used his 6-4 frame to score against Noel on the inside.

but not. 2nd scorer Antonio Reeves (14.6 points) scored five points on 1-for-15 shooting, including 1-for-10 from behind the arc with a 3-only with 8 seconds left and a Kansas State takeover.

When it was over, the Kansas State players began embracing each other in the middle of the field and celebrating, with guard Desi Seals — another transfer, fittingly — speaking excitedly to nearby cameras as he strolled down the field in victory.

Later, after most of the team had left the field, Johnson was still lounging behind the bench giving kids and signing autographs for fans.

And teammate Nae’Qwan Tomlin pressed in another top-five of his own before running towards the locker room while pointing triumphantly at another pocket of KSU fans.

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