Markquis Nowell's New York grit helps Kansas State basketball advance to the Big Apple
GREENSBORO, N.C. — From the moment Kansas State was placed in the NCAA Tournament's East Region, Markquis Nowell had his eye on New York and Madison Square Garden.
But now that the third-seeded Wildcats have made it a reality and they're headed to the Big Apple for the Sweet 16, his focus has shifted. Or rather it has intensified.
So while his phone and Instagram accounts lit up following Sunday's 75-69 second-round victory over Kentucky at the Greensboro Coliseum, the joy of returning to his hometown was replaced by a steely-eyed determination to keep the momentum going.
"I'm going to be focused on winning," Nowell said when asked the first thing he would do when arriving in New York for Thursday's 5:30 p.m. CT game against No. 7 seed Michigan State. "It's cool to go back home, it's cool to play at Madison Square Garden, but I still have one goal in mind, and that's to win."
And don't think for a moment that those are empty words for media consumption, consider the fact that throughout his college stops at Little Rock and then the past two years, Nowell seldom made it back to Harlem, even during winter or summer breaks from school.
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That, and the fact that at 5-foot-7 or 5-8, he has had to fight for everything in what is traditionally a big man's game, has allowed him to play both with heart and supreme confidence.
"The confidence that he plays with every game," fellow New Yorker Nae'Qwan Tomlin said after Nowell had 27 points and nine assists against Kentucky, scoring 23 of those points in the second half and nine in the pivotal final 3 1/2 minutes. "Markquis is a very good player.
"He puts in tons of time and work in the gym. Like when we go away for a break, he's still in the gym (in Manhattan) putting in work."
Forward Ismael Massoud, another New Yorker who hit the 3-pointer that put K-State in front for good against Kentucky, also sang Nowell's praises.
"I can't speak enough about Quis — his character, his work ethic.
"It's crazy sometimes, you sit back and see everything that he's done this year and see where he's come from and how he's been underestimated his whole life. He never let that deter him, and to me he's a legend in my eyes for everything he's done."
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Indeed, in his fifth season, this is the first time Nowell has played in the postseason, and he has delivered in both games. In Friday's first-round victory over Montana State he scored 17 points, tied a career high with 14 assists, grabbed six rebounds and had three steals.
So just what has he shown people this past week?
"They see the dog in him. They see the killer in him," said backup guard Tykei Greene, yet another New Yorker looking forward to a trip home. "They see his focus and determination.
"They see that he's willing to get the job done no matter what, (and) he shows it every night, every day."
First-year K-State coach Jerome Tang didn't recruit Nowell to the Little Apple, but he kept him around, along with Massoud, as the only holdovers from last year's Wildcat team. As an assistant coach at Baylor, he saw enough of both of them last year to want them to stay.
And he especially appreciated Nowell's New York swagger.
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"(Nebraska coach) Tim Floyd said this," Tang said. "When you get a point guard, get one from one of the big cities, because they take pride in that big-city toughness, like Chicago or New York or New Orleans.
"Really tough. They're like, 'You don't know where I'm from.' That's Quis all the time. 'I'm from New York, Mr. New York,' so that type of toughness and grit."
Massoud agreed that Nowell epitomizes that toughness.
"You're not given anything. You have to earn everything you've got. It's the concrete jungle," Massoud said of his hometown. "It's just a different type of lifestyle, fast-paced.
"You've got to look out for yourself. It's playing basketball in the parks. You don't drive everywhere. It's a different lifestyle that only if you're from New York you can truly understand."
Nowell is starting to make everybody understand.
Arne Green is based in Salina and covers Kansas State University sports for the Gannett network. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @arnegreen.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Markquis Nowell's grit helps Kansas State advance to the Big Apple