Why Markquis Nowell passed up final shot in Kansas State’s loss to FAU in Elite Eight

Kansas State basketball fans everywhere had to feel confident that Markquis Nowell was about to force overtime when he dribbled up court with 6.9 seconds remaining in a back-and-forth Elite Eight game against Florida Atlantic on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

Sure, the Owls led the Wildcats by three. But Nowell had done nothing but make clutch plays during the NCAA Tournament. No one watching this game in Kansas, New York or anywhere in between would have been surprised had he swished a three-pointer from the March Madness logo at midcourt.

The fairy tale ending was set. It just didn’t happen.

Not only did K-State fail to score on its final possession, it failed to get up a shot. Florida Atlantic advanced to the Final Four with a 79-76 victory.

Most surprising of all: Nowell gave up the ball. Rather than take the game-tying shot himself, he passed to junior forward Ismael Massoud, who was unable to shoot with FAU defenders in his face. The buzzer sounded as the Owls stripped the ball away from him.

“It was disappointing,” K-State coach Jerome Tang said. “I didn’t do a very good job. I am more disappointed in me than anything that I didn’t help my guys get a better opportunity there.”

What went wrong? And why did that final play go down that way?

This will probably come as a surprise to casual fans, but Nowell said he intended to get the ball to Massoud the whole way. He told his teammate to be ready and turned down a screen as he crossed midcourt. Then he looked Massoud’s way as he tried to get open on the wing.

Nowell wanted Massoud to shoot so much that he tried to set him up with a look from his favorite spot on the court. When he realized FAU was going to play defense rather than foul up three, he looked to make it happen.

“I tried to get Ismael a shot because the right wing is where he makes most of his threes at,” Nowell said.

Massoud shoots nearly 40% from three-point range and he has a history of making clutch shots from beyond the arc. Nowell wanted to be a decoy so Massoud could be the hero, just like he was during recent wins over Kentucky and Michigan State.

It’s hard to argue with that strategy. The play simply wasn’t executed well against a defense that knew a three-pointer was coming.

“They closed out hard,” Nowell said. “They kind of trapped him. That was that.”

In hindsight, it may have been easier for Nowell to create his own shot in that situation.

Nowell was also the hotter player on Saturday, as he finished with 30 points and 12 assists compared to just three points for Massoud.

Bottom line: Things could have gone better.

“There was no real play,” Massoud said. “We just tried to get the ball up fast. I should have just shot the ball. Markquis told me to be ready to shoot and I got the ball. I didn’t feel like I had a shot. I couldn’t get a shot up.

“I will have to go back and watch it again. I should have tried harder to get a shot up.”