NEW YORK -- On Wednesday, Markquis Nowell was asked about Michigan State's defense against elite guards so far in the NCAA tournament. The Kansas State star started his response with what seemed like a bold declaration.
"I determine how the game is going to go," Nowell said.
He didn't lie.
The 5-foot-8 guard from Harlem, N.Y. backed up his words Thursday night, putting together one of the greatest individual performances in NCAA tournament history leading Kansas State to a 98-93 overtime victory over Michigan State to advance to the Elite Eight.
Nowell set a tournament record with 19 assists, also scoring 20 points and racking up five steals. And he did it after sustaining what appeared to be a serious sprained ankle midway through the second half.
"That dude didn't come here to be injured in his last college game," Kansas State coach Jerome Tang said.
Nowell could have filled an entire "One Shining Moment'' reel with highlights from Thursday's game. The constant weaving through the Michigan State defense like a cab driver through New York City traffic, the passes to cutting teammates that nobody else in Madison Square Garden could see coming.
In the lead-up to the game, Nowell mentioned another former New York point guard as someone he watched growing up, Kemba Walker. Nowell's performance against Michigan State brought back memories of Walker's run through the 2014 NCAA tournament leading UConn to the national title. (Of course, that run came through an East Regional held at MSG, too.)
There was the sequence that immediately followed Nowell's return from injury: A 3-pointer while falling down to beat the shot clock buzzer, knocking the ball away from Malik Hall on a dunk attempt and assisting an easy basket at the other end for Cam Carter.
There was Nowell's stepback jumper over Hall with 1 minute, 4 seconds left in regulation, after which Nowell jogged back on defense yelling, "This is my city!"
And there was the defining play of Kansas State's win, an alley-oop pass to a cutting Keyontae Johnson, who finished with a reverse dunk to give the Wildcats a 94-92 lead they wouldn't relinquish. As Nowell brought the ball up the floor, he looked over at the crowd and yelled "watch this," before appearing to fake an argument with Tang about the play-call.
"Dang, I've got to watch what I say," Nowell said with a smile.
"It was just a basketball play between me and Keyontae," he added. "We knew how Michigan State plays defense. They play high up. We got eye contact, he was like, 'lob, lob.' I just threw it up and he made a great play."
Nowell did miss a deep 3-pointer at the end of regulation that allowed Tyson Walker to force overtime and another at the end of overtime. But he redeemed himself, stealing the ball from Walker on Michigan State's final possession and going back the other way to seal the game with a layup at the buzzer.
Thursday's game was the first overtime tilt of this year's NCAA tournament, featuring 16 lead changes and 14 ties. Neither team ever led by double-figures.
"It was like a 'Rocky' fight," Nowell said.
The first half gave us an indication of what was to come, with Nowell assisting on seven of Kansas State's first 11 shots -- also making a field goal of his own. But Michigan State's guards were up to the challenge, with A.J. Hoggard (25 points), Tyson Walker (16 points) and Jaden Akins (14 points) making plays of their own at the other end.
Kansas State opened up a nine-point lead at the start of the second half, but Nowell landed awkwardly on a shot with 15:31 left in the second half. He was down for several minutes, grabbing at his ankle, and he needed help from two staffers to get to the bench. Nowell couldn't put weight on his right leg, but he got his ankle retaped on the bench.
While getting retaped, Nowell jumped out of his seat at one point to yell something to his teammates on the floor. After testing out his ankle for a couple minutes on the sideline and watching Michigan State go on a 9-2 run, Nowell walked straight to the scorer's table to check back into the game with 13:11 remaining.
"I just wanted to do it for my teammates," he said. "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, stop me from playing in the Sweet 16 and advancing to the Elite Eight."
"He's our starting point guard," Johnson said. "His IQ, his feel for the game, he brings everybody confidence, and when he came back, I felt like it just -- everybody seen how he was trying to fight through his injury, and we just wanted to fight back for him."
Johnson finished with 22 points of his own, while Ismael Massoud had 15 points -- including multiple huge shots at the end of regulation and in overtime. Nowell set them up, but his teammates kept knocking them down.
"We're at our best when we're sharing the ball, passing the ball around the perimeter and different guys is getting into double figures in the scoring category," Nowell said. "I wouldn't have 19 assists if they didn't make any shots."
Nowell is now averaging 21.3 points, 14 assists and 3.7 steals in three NCAA tournament games, turning the ball over only 11 times. He's the star of the tournament so far and Thursday night was his statement performance -- in his hometown, under the brightest lights in the sport.
On Wednesday, Tang said Nowell opting to return to Kansas State after last spring's coaching change was crucial in the Wildcats' successful first season under his watch.
"We're not here without Markquis Nowell staying," he said.
And they're certainly not 40 minutes from the Final Four without Nowell's historic showing Thursday night.