Big 12 Basketball

Three Thoughts on Kansas State’s 79-76 Loss to FAU in the Elite 8

The Kansas State Wildcats lost to the Florida Atlantic Owls, 79-76, in the Elite Eight of the 2023 NCAA men’s basketball tournament in New York City. Here are three thoughts on the game.

Kansas State (26-10) was seeking its first Final Four appearance since the Wildcats went to the Final Four in 1964.

FAU (35-3) will reach the Final Four for the first time in school history. Here are three thoughts on the game.


Setting the Stage

The stage was set before the game. Florida Atlantic was making its first Elite Eight appearance. This wasn’t a nothing to lose kind of team. The Owls had more wins than any remaining NCAA Tournament team.

Kansas State hadn’t made a Final Four appearance since 1964 under then-coach Tex Winter. But, the Wildcats were tied for sixth all-time in Elite Eight appearances.

Kansas State wasn’t just trying to write its own rags-to-riches story. It was trying to exorcise some ghosts.

The Wildcats had been to the Elite Eight in 1972, 1973, 1975, 1981, 1988, 2010 and 2018. All of those teams fell short of ending the Final Four drought.

Could coach Jerome Tang — trying to become the 11th coach to take a team to the Final Four in his first season — along with Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson change that? Let’s find out.


How FAU Won

Going into the game, it was clear the moment wasn’t too big for the Owls. It was also clear that the Owls had one big advantage — a seven-footer. Vladislav Goldin, who doesn’t log a lot of time for FAU and hadn’t averaged more than six points in the NCAA Tournament, had a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

That compounded the issues Kansas State had rebounding the basketball. FAU outrebounded Kansas State, 44-22, which sounds absurd. Johnell Davis, FAU’s star guard, had eight of those boards too.

It translated on the offensive glass, where FAU had a 14-5 advantage and had 15 second-chance points.

At one point late in the game, the Owls went on a 15-1 run and were up six points. Part of that came from a second-chance basket off a missed FAU free throw.

Kansas State chipped away and chipped away. But, Michael Forrest — the only senior for FAU and one of coach Dusty May’s first recruits — went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line down the stretch to keep FAU’s lead at three points.

This is a team that understands how to win close games. The Owls are now 12-1 this season in games decided by five points or fewer.

Alijah Martin led the Owls with 17 points. Bryan Greenlee had 16 points, including four 3-pointers, before fouling out. Davis added 13 as the Owls shot 48 percent.

FAU needed the quality shooting and the rebounding to overcome the biggest deficiency for the game — 22 turnovers. It nearly cost the Owls a trip to Houston.


How Kansas State Lost

On the surface, the Wildcats had the stats to win the game, in spite of the rebounding disadvantage. They shot 46 percent, hit 10 3-pointers and forced all of those turnovers. The Wildcats only had 12 turnovers. The game was played at their pace and Markquis Nowell had an incredible game, scoring 30 points and dishing out 12 assists. He also had five steals.

But dig into the margins and a couple of things worked against Kansas State. First, the free-throw shooting. FAU was 18-of-22 from the line. Kansas State was only 12-of-18. It’s a small difference, but it was a three-point game.

Second was foul trouble in the K-State frontcourt. Two Wildcats fouled out — Keyontae Johnson and David N’Guessan. Johnson was called for two early fouls in the first half and sat most of the way. The Wildcats were able to ride that out.

In the second half, it happened again and Johnson had to sit until less than six minutes to play. Then he picked up his fifth foul with less than three to play.

Johnson was just never able to get enough time on the floor to get going. He finished with nine points and two rebounds.

The only other Wildcat in double figures was Nae’Qwan Tomlin, who had 14 points.

It was an incredible season for the Wildcats. But it ended just like Michigan State’s did on Thursday night — with Kansas State scrambling to shoot a 3-pointer and turning the ball over in the final seconds.  

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard

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