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NEW YORK – Not too far into the press conference after Markquis Nowell’s historic night at Madison Square Garden, a reporter asked him if he could confirm he was yelling “this is my city” as he was running down the court after one of his NCAA Tournament record-breaking 19 assists in Kansas State’s 98-93 overtime win over Michigan State to advance to the Elite Eight in the East Regional.
His teammate, Ismael “Ish” Massoud, answered before he could.
“Yeah, it is,” he cracked.
If only for one night, it certainly felt that way for the Harlem native, who delivered a stunning performance for the ages not far from the shadow of where he grew up.
“This one was special, in front of my hometown, in front of the city that loves me,” Nowell said. “I can’t even put into words how blessed and grateful I am.”
Nowell broke a 36-year-old record set by UNLV’s Mark Wade, who had 18 assists in one game during the 1987 tourney – assists were only made an official stat in the NCAA’s starting in 1984 – and his 42 assists through the Sweet Sixteen are also the most of any player in nearly 40 years.
Not bad for a guy who seemed like he might have to miss the majority of the game with what appeared to be a potentially serious ankle injury in the early going of the second half, missing a stretch in which the Spartans went on a 9-2 run.
“When I saw Markquis go down and hobble off, I knew he wasn’t staying off,” said K-State head coach Jerome Tang. “That dude didn’t come here to be injured on his last college game, so I knew he was coming back in. We get guys hurt at practice all the time, but we have to move on to the next thing. And every guy in the huddle said, next man up, let’s go. And then everybody responded.”
The 5-foot-8, 160-pound senior also had 20 points and five steals, and will be a challenge to contain for nine-seed Florida Atlantic, which is authoring its own Cinderella story after upsetting Tennessee, 62-55, in the nightcap.
“I’ve watched them a lot this year just because I enjoy watching them play,” said FAU head coach Dusty May.
“And as a coach, that’s probably the greatest compliment you can give someone, you enjoy watching their team play. And obviously, I’ve known Keyontae (Johnson, who scored 22 points on Thursday night) since he was young in high school, and I’m friends with a couple of the guys on staff and Coach Tang. So, so much respect for them. We know how hard it’s going to be, but our guys aren’t going to back down. If we lose on Saturday it’s going to be because Kansas State beat us.”
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