The Division 1 Men's Basketball Championship (or March Madness for short) hit Madison Square Garden on Thursday night as the tournament moved into the Sweet Sixteen. At this point in the NCAA Tournament, games become wars of attrition, with the teams able to withstand runs advancing. We saw this in the night's first game between Michigan State and Kansas State.
#3 Kansas State 98, #7 Michigan State 93
Kansas State got the pro-Wildcat crowd on their feet early as Keyontae Johnson put down an alley-oop in the opening minute. The Wildcats wanted to push the tempo early as Michigan State tried to keep up and did just that. Michigan State held the edge on the boards early with four offensive rebounds and eight total before the first media timeout.
After the first media timeout, the teams were even as both squads traded baskets. Johnson connected on a three to put the Wildcats up 17-14, but Michigan State's Jaden Akins made a trey of his own to tie the game at 17 with 9:29 left in the first half.
The Spartans grabbed the lead as they seemed to settle into their game. Unfortunately for them, Kansas State was lying in wait as the Wildcats went on an 8-0 run and shut Michigan State down on the offensive end to take a 30-26 lead. While Johnson led the way in scoring, Markquis Novell dazzled the MSG crowd with his spectacular passes leading to 10 first-half assists.
The 5'8" guard from Harlem not only directed the offense, but he also drained a big three to put Kansas State up 33-28. The shot from Novell was included in the Wildcats making 7-of-9 shots over five minutes and holding Michigan State to without a field goal for over five and a half minutes. At halftime, Kansas State led 43-38 as Johnson scored 14 points, as the Wildcats shot 62 percent from the field in the half.
The second half started like the first half, as Kansas State wanted to push the pace. With the Wildcats up 50-46, the worst possible thing happened as Novell went down grabbing his ankle as both teams went into the first media timeout of the second half. Kansas State was facing the reality of continuing without their starting point guard.
Following the injury, Michigan State went on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 50. Johnson's layup gave the Wildcats a 52-50 lead, but the Spartans responded with A.J. Hoggard's basket to tie the game again. On Michigan State's next possession, Hoggard drove to the basket to pick up an and-1 to give the Spartans a 55-52 lead.
Novell returned to the game and knocked down a circus three to tie the game as he limped up the court like Isiah Thomas in the 1988 NBA Finals.
"I just wanted to do it for my teammates," said Novell. "I love being out there with these guys, and I wasn't going to let a little injury like this that happens on the basketball court all the time to stop me from playing in the Sweet 16 and advancing to the Elite 8."
From then on, both teams found their shooting stroke as they lit up the baskets in The Garden. Once the game hit the under-six-minute media timeout, Kansas State held a 72-70 lead. The game became a battle of wills between MSU's Hoggard and Joey Hauser against Novell and Johnson from KSU.
After Kansas State's 10-0 run to go up 77-70, Tyson Walker knocked down a three to bring the Spartans to within four. After two Hoggard free throws, Ismael Massoud's three put the Wildcats up by five. Jaden Akins followed with a three of his own for Michigan State as the lead went to two. But once Novell, playing on a bad ankle, hit a hesitation jumper with 1:04 left to give the Wildcats an 84-80 lead.
Malik Hall made a shot but could not finish the three-point play. A long Novell shot did not fall as Michigan State had one final chance for the win. Walker hit a driving shot off the glass, and the game would go into overtime tied at 82.
In overtime, Michigan State took a 90-88 lead with two minutes left. David N'Guessan made a layup to tie the game, but Hoggard put Michigan State up again as he continued his big play. Nae'Qwan Tomlin hit two foul shots to tie the game at 92 with 89 seconds left.
Novell hit Johnson with an alley-oop to give Kansas State a two-point lead but then committed a foul on the defensive end. Hall made one of two from the line and the Wildcats got possession. Novell took an ill-advised deep three, but Michigan State blocked the attempt, and the ball went out of bounds giving possessions back to Kansas State. Massoud hit a jumper on the inbounds to put the Wildcats up by three with 12.5 left.
Michigan State could not get a shot off as Kansas State, who struggled all game to close out on shooters, held their ground as Novell got the steal and sealed the game with a final-second layup.
Nowell set an NCAA Tournament single-game record with 19 assists as he added 20 points in the win. Johnson finished with 22 points to lead Kansas State.
"This is probably my career high in assists ever," said Novell after his record-breaking performance. "I had a couple games with 14, a couple games with 17 back in high school. But this one was special, in front of my hometown, in front of the city that loves me. I can't even put into words how blessed and grateful I am."
Hoggard scored a game-high 25 points for Michigan State, while Hauser added 18 in the loss.
#9 Florida Atlantic 62, #3 Tennessee 55
The night's second game saw upstart Florida Atlantic take on SEC powerhouse Tennessee. Early on, FAU showed no fear going up against the Volunteers as they went toe-to-toe with the Powers 5 team.
Unlike the first game, the pace was plodding, with many half-court offensive sets. Alijah Martin scored five of FAU's eight points, but four early turnovers were costly as Tennessee turned them into points. On the other hand, the Volunteers shot well from beyond the arc to take an early five-point lead at the halfway mark of the first half.
The Volunteers went cold in the latter part of the first half going over three minutes without scoring. Florida Atlantic had trouble capitalizing on Tennessee's scoring drought as they also went on a scoring drought until Giancarlo Rosado broke the streak.
Both teams struggled to score at various points of the half as Tennessee held an eight-point lead with under three minutes left in the half. The key for Florida Atlantic was to keep it close, which they did in the latter moments of the first half. This was done without leading scorer Johnell Davis, who picked up his second foul early in the half. At the half, Tennessee led 27-22 as both teams shot under 40 percent from the field.
As both teams came out for the second half, the scoring picked up a little, but it still resembled a knockdown, drag-out pace of play. Santiago Vescovi scored six quick points in the opening minutes of the second half to help give Tennessee some breathing room.
FAU and their fans awakened as Michael Forrest went on an 8-0 run and held Tennessee scoreless for over three minutes to take a 41-39 lead with under ten minutes remaining in regulation. FAU went on a 15-2 run over five minutes to go into under eight media timeout with a 48-41.
Tennessee began to make baskets to keep their deficit under ten points. Josiah-Jordan James hit a three to pull the Vols to within five at 55-50 with 3:16 left. The Owls went cold as they did not make a field goal for over three minutes. Nick Boyd broke the streak to put FAU up by seven. From then on, Tennessee could not generate any offense, and FAU iced the game with free throws for the win.
Davis, who scored just two points in the first half, finished with 15 points as he went 9-of-10 from the line. With the win, the Owls advanced to the program's first Elite Eight as they continue their run in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
"It's awesome for our university, our athletic department, and our community, and we are extremely proud to represent them," said FAU head coach Dusty May. "Our guys have done it with professionalism all year, so it's awesome for everyone, especially as we've put a lot of time -- these guys have put a lot of work, elbow grease into building a program."
James and Jonas Aidoo led the Volunteers with 10 points each.
On Deck At NCAA Tournament
The Elite Eight is now set as Kansas State will face Florida Atlantic will face off for a berth in the Final Four on Saturday at 6:05 p.m. at The Garden.
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