MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP)Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell have been the savvy seniors leading Kansas State’s basketball renaissance all season, a nearly inseparable duo helping to put the No. 11 Wildcats in position to make a deep March run.
Desi Sills shined every bit as bright as them Wednesday night.
The often-overlooked Arkansas State transfer flirted with a triple-double in his own Bramlage Coliseum farwell, joining Johnson and Nowell in leading the Wildcats to an 85-69 victory over Oklahoma. Sills finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and eight assists before riling up the student section with a fiery postgame speech.
“I wanted to leave a legacy. Leave it all on the floor,” Sills said afterward. “I was shy of a triple-double but that doesn’t matter. I’m just glad we got the win.”
Johnson finished with 16 points and Nowell added 11 points and 10 assists, helping the Wildcats (23-7, 11-6 Big 12) end a three-game skid against the Sooners. Nae’Qwan Tomlin also scored 19 points for Kansas State, which led by as many as 20 early in the second half before holding on down the stretch.
Then the party started: Jerome Tang sent his entire team pouring into the student section, where they danced the “Wabash Cannonball,” while the first-year coach headed to the pep band and joined right in.
“I was just so thankful and grateful that I decided to finish my career here at k-state,” Nowell said. “I’ve been on both sides of the deal, the losing side and now the winning side, so I’m just thankful for it all.”
The Sooners (14-16, 4-13) applied a little pressure late, getting within 75-65 with just under 2 minutes to go. But that’s when Tanner Groves was ejected for hitting Sills with an errant elbow, and his free throws put the game away.
“It definitely wasn’t intentional,” Oklahoma coach Porter Moser said. “It was an unfortunate play. I don’t think it was malicious. I know the kid; that’s not who he is. It was a high-elbow play. An unfortunate play.”
Milos Uzan had 20 points to lead the Sooners. Otega Oweh finished with 18.
Oklahoma spent most of the first half mired in foul trouble. Groves and Oweh took a seat with two apiece 5 minutes into the game, and Kansas State spent the last 15 minutes parading to the line in the bonus.
Yet it wasn’t until the closing stretch that the Wildcats established some breathing room.
The game was tied 25-all when Tomlin began a 9-0 run to carry Kansas State into the locker room. David N’Guessan added a bucket a couple of minutes later, Johnson drilled a 3-pointer off a nifty behind-the-back pass from Sills, and N’Guessan added a punctuating dunk off Nowell’s feed for a 34-25 advantage.
“The wheels fell off,” Moser said. “Not that you can’t overcome a 9-0 run to end the half, but we were up and up, and back and forth. Next thing we know we’re down nine.”
It wasn’t long until they were down much more than that.
After a bucket by Groves to start the second half, the Wildcats ripped off seven straight points – dunks by Tomlin bookending Nowell’s 3-pointer. And after Nowell hit another 3 from well beyond the arc, he saved a steal as he fell out of bounds, starting a fastbreak that ended with Sills’ reverse layup for a 48-31 lead with 16 minutes to go.
The lead stretched to 53-33 before the Oklahoma began to mount its failed comeback bid.
We all bought in,” Sill said. “We all committed on the defensive end, we got easy transition buckets. I thought that was the key to the game. We took off from there.”
Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team that must win next week’s conference tournament to earn an NCAA tourney berth, though three others are teetering on the brink. But the Sooners proved in wins over the Wildcats, Iowa State and No. 2 Alabama that they are capable, and they showed glimpses of it again Wednesday night.
Kansas State remains in the mix for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, which would match the 2010 team for its best since seeding began in 1979. But the Wildcats likely have to beat West Virginia on Saturday and win a couple of Big 12 tourney games to make that happen.
The regular season wraps Saturday when Oklahoma plays No. 22 TCU and Kansas State visits West Virginia.
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