NEW YORK — Playing in front of a Madison Square Garden crowd that was riveted every time he touched the ball, Markquis Nowell did everything he could to carry Kansas State to its first Final Four since 1964.
The 5-foot-8 Harlem native had 50 points, 31 assists and 10 steals in two games at the famous New York City arena and was named the East Region's most outstanding player.
But it wasn't enough against a hard-driving Florida Atlantic team that beat Kansas State 79-76 in a nip-and-tuck game Saturday night to earn a trip to the national semifinals in Houston.
Nowell finished with 30 points, 12 assists and five steals. On the Wildcats' final possession, he gave the ball to Ismael Massoud, who failed to get off a tying 3-point attempt.
“I always dreamed of something like this, just playing here, being here, playing my heart out,” Nowell said. “I feel like I gave my heart and soul to this game for these past couple games because I wanted to see these guys win and smile and know what the standard is for winning.”
In the Wildcats' Sweet 16 win over Michigan State, Nowell got plenty of help from star forward Keyontae Johnson. But Johnson wasn't much of a factor against the Owls, playing only 18 minutes because of foul trouble.
The former Florida star — who transferred to Kansas State this season after missing two years following his shocking collapse on the court during a game — scored nine points and had two rebounds. He came in leading the Wildcats in scoring at 17.7 points per game.
“I’m just going to look back at it as, if I never fouled, we would not be in this situation,” Johnson said as he sat in front of his locker, his eyes swollen and red.
Johnson walked off the court with his head down.
“I was trying to not show my emotion on the court,” Johnson said, adding his emotions got the best of him when he got to the locker room, where coach Jerome Tang waited and cheered the team that made his first season so memorable.
Massoud, who also grew up in Harlem, had his own regrets about failing to put up a last-second shot. He took a pass from Nowell but was quickly surrounded by two Owls, and the ball got loose.
“I should have probably put a shot up,” Massoud said. “That's probably something I am going to have to live with.”
Massoud said he will always remember Nowell's performance in New York.
“There's not enough words to explain what he is able to do,” Massoud said. “That was probably the best performance in the NCAAs this season and for years to come. He was breaking records. He really worked for this. Without him we would not have been in the game.”
Tang experienced two previous Elite Eight losses during his time as an assistant coach at Baylor. He said he'll take only positives from his first season leading the Wildcats.
“Tough things are going to happen in our life, and we don’t get to wallow in it,” he said. “We’ve got to keep moving forward. This is more of a lesson for them of becoming men than it is about basketball.”