Kansas State’s dream season ends with loss to FAU in Elite Eight

Tribune Content Agency

NEW YORK — Kansas State’s dream basketball season came to a painful end with a 79-76 defeat against Florida Atlantic on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

The Wildcats won 26 games and made it further in the NCAA Tournament than just about anyone expected, but their run stopped at the Elite Eight. Once again, they fell short of the Final Four at the hands of a Cinderella team from a mid-major conference.

K-State has not reached the Final Four since 1964.

It seemed like the Wildcats were finally going to break through when they led 63-57 with 8:39 remaining in this game following a Markquis Nowell 3-pointer that banked in off the glass. But the Owls answered with a 15-1 run and took control.

Nowell at least went out with a bang and finished with 30 points and 12 assists.

But he needed more help on offense for the Wildcats to pull out a win.

Here are some thoughts on the action:

Nowell makes things happen in new ways

When Nowell earned the nickname “King of New York” with his thrilling performance against Michigan State he filled up the stat sheet with a NCAA Tournament record 19 assists to go along with 20 points.

He did his damage in other ways against the Owls.

Well, kind of.

Nowell still piled up 12 assists, but Florida Atlantic dared him to shoot in this game. He obliged and scored 30 points on 21 attempts. Even in the loss, he was the best player on the floor.

Vlad Goldin made his presence felt on defense

Florida Atlantic center Vlad Goldin is a 7-foot-1 behemoth who found a way to impact just about every play the Wildcats ran when he was protecting the rim.

Goldin finished the game with 14 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks. His biggest stuff of the night came late in the second half when he blocked Nowell badly on a driving layup attempt. The big man flexed his muscles afterward and let if be known that there would be no easy buckets with him on the floor.

Thing is, his presence had already been felt.

In previous games, Nowell had most of his success by attacking the rim off the dribble and then kicking out to open shooters when help defenders came closing in on him. But the Owls didn’t send many help defenders his way with Goldin waiting in the paint as a shot-blocker.

The Wildcats had to adjust to his presence, which led Nowell to attempt more shots than he usually would.

Jerome Tang had to manage foul trouble with Keyontae Johnson

Foul trouble has been a concern for Keyontae Johnson all season, and it was once again a problem for the senior guard against Florida Atlantic.

Johnson picked up a pair of fouls in the first eight minutes of Saturday’s game, and he was relegated to the bench for most of the remainder of the half. He was a spectator for the next 11 minutes of action and only returned to the game for the final few seconds.

K-State struggled to keep pace with Florida Atlantic as its leading scorer watched from the bench and the Owls took a 42-38 lead at the break.

Johnson only played 8 minutes, 16 seconds of the first half.

Turned out, his early foul trouble was an omen of things to come. Johnson picked up two more fouls early in the second half and was unable to play as much as he would have liked down the stretch.

Two of his fouls were a bit unlucky and both came at the end of hustle plays when he was trying to corral a loose ball.

Nevertheless, they counted the same as any other foul and coach Jerome Tang had to make some difficult decisions on how to use one of his star players.

He went on to foul out with several minutes remaining, which put lots of pressure on the Wildcats.

Florida Atlantic had a huge advantage on the glass

The biggest stat discrepancy of this game was easy to spot.

Florida Atlantic benefited from a massive rebounding advantage against K-State. The Owls crashed the glass and got 44 rebounds while the Wildcats were only able to corral 22.

Supporting cast fell short for Wildcats

As good as Nowell was in this entire tournament, he needed more help from his teammates on Saturday.

Nae’Qwan Tomlin was the only other K-State player who reached double figures, as he finished with 14 points.

The Wildcats needed a more balanced effort to beat a time like the Owls.