Markquis Nowell had 17 points and 14 assists, and No. 3 seed Kansas State held off 14th-seeded Montana State 77-65 Friday night for its first NCAA Tournament win since knocking off Kentucky in 2018 to reach the Elite Eight.
The two Wildcat programs will meet again in a rematch on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum. Kentucky, the sixth seed, defeated No. 11 Providence 61-53 in the earlier game.
Nowell and fellow third-team Associated Press All-American Keyontae Johnson, who had 18 points and eight rebounds, proved too much for the Bobcats to handle.
RaeQuan Battle had 26 points on 9 of 17 shooting for Montana State (25-10), which had its eight-game win streak snapped.
Kansas State guard Markquis Nowell (1) reacts during the second half of a first-round college basketball game against the Montana State in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Greensboro, N.C. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Kansas State (24-9) led Montana State 34-28 at the break. The Wildcats stretched the lead to 13 with 11 minutes remaining when Desi Sills scored on a layup off an inbounds pass under his own basket after a botched defensive assignment.
Montana State went to a 1-3-1 defense, which disrupted the Wildcats for a short time, and helped cut the lead to eight before Nowell buried a deep 3-pointer from the left wing and Nae'Qwan Tomlin scored off a lob to push the lead back to 13.
Montana State wouldn't quit, though, with Darius Brown knocking down a 3 with 2:44 left.
David N'Guessan #3 and Markquis Nowell #1 of the Kansas State Wildcats celebrate during the second half against the Montana State Bobcats in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at The Fieldhouse at Greensboro Coliseum on March 17, 2023, in Greensboro, North Carolina.
But Tomlin, who finished with 13 points, answered with another dunk off after Nowell threaded the needle with his 14th assist, the most ever by a Kansas State player in an NCAA Tournament game.
David N'Guessan added two technical foul free throws and then scored on an inside layup. Sills punctuated the win with a breakaway left-handed dunk giving the Wildcats a 16-point lead.
Montana State: The Bobcats were looking for a better showing after losing by 35 points in the opening round of last year's tournament to Texas Tech, and they got it. The Big Sky champions showed they could compete on the NCAA Tournament stage but, in the end, didn't have the size to compete with the Wildcats. Montana State was outscored 48-30 in the paint.
Kansas State: The Wildcats had some concerns coming into the tournament after back-to-back losses to West Virginia and TCU. It was a struggle at times, but the Wildcats finished with a flurry to seal the win.
Desi Sills #13 of the Kansas State Wildcats celebrates with teammates during the second half against the Montana State Bobcats in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at The Fieldhouse at Greensboro Coliseum on March 17, 2023 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Kansas State beat Kentucky 61-58 on March 22, 2018, for its first win over the Wildcats in 10 tries.