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Kansas State's Markquis Nowell, Jerome Tang explain argument before record-tying assist: 'It was a place of fire'

By Zac Al-Khateeb,


Marquis Nowell stole the show in more ways than one in Kansas State's 98-93 overtime victory over Michigan State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday.

Nowell finished the game with 20 points, an NCAA Tournament-record 19 assists , five steals and two rebounds, and led multiple key possessions in the second half and OT — all on a rolled ankle — to help first-year Jerome Tang and the Wildcats to the Elite Eight.

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But one viral moment stood out.

Moments before Nowell tossed his record-tying assist to Keyontae Johnson on a halfcourt lob, he could be seen looking at the sideline and arguing with Tang. As soon as Nowell looked toward the basket, he caught Johnson in stride for one of the biggest plays of the game:

Tang told Turner's Allie LaForce after the game that the argument was nothing out of the ordinary, nor anything that would require further discussions:

"Where we was at, it was a place of fire," Tang said. "But we practice in a place of fire all the time. So, he’s ready for it. He's a bad boy right here."

BENDER: Nowell becomes king of New York with transcendent Sweet 16 performance

After the game, a reporter asked Tang and Nowell whether that was merely a setup to put Michigan State at ease. Before Nowell could answer, Tang jokingly interjected, "You can't tell 'em because then the next team will know."

"It was just a basketball play between me and Keyontae. We knew how Michigan State plays defense," Nowell said. "They play high up, and Keyontae just told me, like, we got eye contact, and he was like, 'Lob, lob.' I just threw it up, and he made a great play."

Nowell also said there was more to his jawing than just going back and forth with his coach. He said he was talking with Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas, who was in attendance at Madison Square Garden rooting for the Spartans.

MORE: Nowell turns in Isiah-esque performance to lead KSU into Elite Eight

"Man, I've got to watch what I say," Nowell said. "Yeah, I was talking to Isiah Thomas, 'cause I think he had a friend over there, and he was rooting for them. And I’m like, 'Y'all not gonna win today.' And I just kept looking at him for some added motivation. But it was nothing but cool vibes with them over there."

Regardless, Tang is more than happy with the way his team is playing. The Wildcats not only committed a paltry eight turnovers in the victory, but they also played well against a defensively sound Spartans team to advance to the Elite Eight.

"I hope y'all saw the love they have for each other, the joy with which they play and the freedom that they’re allowed to be out there and play with," Tang told reporters after the game. "I’m just really really thankful I get to yell at them at practice one more day.”

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