It’s the offseason, which means it feels like a good time to bring back the Friday Five to help recap the special seasons of football and basketball we just witnessed in basketball. It isn’t every year the Cats win the Big 12 in football, it’s not every year that the basketball team goes to the Elite Eight and both certainly don’t happen in the same season all that often. Each run provided big games, major moments, and performances that the kids would describe as “I’m him.” Essentially, this is a list compiling and ranking the top individual performances of K-State’s stellar athletic year.
Desi Sills scores 21 on Kansas in OT win: Desi Sills’ best game of the season was in a moment K-State needed most. The Wildcats didn’t get much scoring from Markquis Nowell in the game and Keyontae Johnson put together an awesome performance, but the Wildcats needed a second scorer. Sills stepped up, playing 34 minutes off the bench and scoring 21 points, while also making 2/3 shots from deep.
Adrian Martinez responds to finish off Oklahoma and set tone against Tech: Adrian Martinez’s first three games in purple were very shaky, but he answered the call in a big way against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Martinez ran for 350 yards in the two games with 9 total touchdowns. He had the big run to ice the win in Norman and then opened up the game against Texas Tech the next week with two big runs to find the endzone.
Chris Klieman shows no mercy against Eli Drinkwitz: This needed a quick nod to K-State’s head ball coach. On a day that was wet and slow-moving, the Wildcats rose above and throttled their old Big 12, 8, 6-foe. After multiple weather delays before and during the game, the Wildcats were open to a shortened halftime, considering they just spent over an hour in the locker room to avoid lightning in the area. Drinkwitz, Mizzou’s head coach, declined the offer and wanted a full halftime. Klieman and the Cats came out of the locker room and faced a 3rd and long defensively. They made the stop and on the second play of the restart, Phillip Brooks took the punt back for a touchdown and pushed K-State’s lead to 20-7. The Wildcats would add 20 more points in the second half for good measure and the beatdown was so bad that Drinkwitz was forced to do everything he could to avoid not scoring a touchdown in the final seconds of the game.
5. KEYONTAE JOHNSON RISES UP AGAINST KANSAS
You wouldn’t be able to script many better Sunflower Showdown games than the first meeting between K-State and Kansas in 2023. Anticipation at an all-time high for Jerome Tang’s first matchup against the Jayhawks in Bramlage Coliseum ended with a court storming after an overtime victory.
Keyontae Johnson was the key to the win for the Wildcats, he dropped 24 on the Jayhawks with an efficient night from the field and hitting big shots early, plus finishing off Kansas with an alley-oop finish from Markquis Nowell for the game-winning basket in overtime. Johnson’s fearlessness and mindset of believing he matched up with the Jayhawks was the key.
Enjoying EMAW Online? Sign up today to get full access to stories and premium message boards covering the Wildcats here.
4. NOWELL’S TEXAS TWO-STEP
Markquis Nowell makes the list a few times and he has a ton of games and moments to choose from, but the start of Big 12 featured some of his best play in 2023. In the first eye-opening moment of the season, K-State went on the road to No. 6 Texas and jumped out to a big lead and dropped a ton of points on the Longhorns. With a final score of 116-103, Nowell played a large role in the Wildcats’ record-breaking victory.
Nowell was unconscious shooting the ball, he was 6/10 from three and finished with 36 points and nine assists to help earn the Wildcats a top ten win in Austin. Johnson also chipped in 28 points, and the Wildcats kept the momentum going with an overtime win that weekend in Waco over No. 19 Baylor. Nowell would drop 32 points in that game, giving him a grand total of 68 points on 10/17 from three. I would have said it was the best week of basketball in Markquis Nowell’s career, but we know that isn’t true now.
3. DEUCE VAUGHN PUNISHES KANSAS IN HIS FINAL SUNFLOWER SHOWDOWN
Deuce Vaughn was going to be on this list at some point, but it was a matter of choosing which game. That’s what happens when you play 14 games in a season and run for over 100 yards in nine of them. The top contenders were his games against Missouri, Texas Tech, TCU in the Big 12 title game and the Sunflower Showdown against Kansas.
All worthy games, but Vaughn and the Wildcats were on a mission at the end of the regular season. Facing a Kansas team that had renewed spirit in the rivalry and a Big 12 Championship game berth on the line, Vaughn and the Cats stepped up. Vaughn averaged almost six yards per carry and totaled 147 rushing yards against the Jayhawks and a touchdown. He also had 82 yards receiving, including a massive screen pass in the shadow of his own endzone that he took from the K-State six-yard-line to the Kansas 14 on 3rd down.
This is also a bit of a lifetime achievement honor for Vaughn who ran for 160 yards against the Jayhawks the year prior in Lawrence, and put up 71 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting against KU.
2. WILL HOWARD TORCHES OKLAHOMA STATE
In a season that had a lot of turning points and pendulum-swinging games, the Oklahoma State game played a pivotal role in telling everyone around K-State that Will Howard was the real deal and could lead this team to wins against a team of any caliber.
Returning home after a heartbreaking loss at TCU the week prior, K-State matched up with No. 9 Oklahoma State. Howard came out and carved up the Cowboys to start the game, completing passes in every way possible. The Wildcats faced a fourth and short after they had crept into Cowboy territory on the opening drive of the game and elected to go for it. However, Deuce Vaughn committed a false start penalty that moved the Cats back. They opted to keep the offense on the field and Howard decided a first down wasn’t enough as he threw a perfect ball to Kade Warner for a 38-yard touchdown pass. Howard finished the game 21/37 for 297 yards and four touchdowns and a QBR of 91.2.
The Wildcats won the game 48-0 and Howard was carried off the field by his teammates as fans rushed the field. The redemption story came full circle and Howard went from goat to GOAT.
1. MARKQUIS IN MARCH
You could pick any game in the NCAA Tournament to give credit to Markquis Nowell, but that wouldn’t do the performance justice. The entire tournament was an “I’m him” showcase from Nowell.
Nowell averaged 23.5 points in the NCAA Tournament and dished out a total of 54 assists (13.5 per game) while shooting 42% from three. He also had games of 27, 20 and 30 points against Kentucky, Michigan State and Florida Atlantic. Nowell took over the basketball world getting TV coverage from everywhere, tweets from every annal of basketball and securing the Bob Cousy Award. Nowell’s heroics in March pushed his short two-year career over the top and he can trigger many debates in the near future on if his jersey deserves to hang from the rafters of Bramlage Coliseum one day. I vote yes.