Markquis Nowell's no-look alley-oop delivers highlight of NCAA tournament; did play start with subterfuge?

The most daring play of this year’s NCAA tournament began with an argument.

Kansas State point guard Markquis Nowell and head coach Jerome Tang lulled Michigan State’s defense into briefly lowering its guard while they squabbled over what play to run.

When Michigan State’s A.J. Hoggard turned his head and lost sight of his man, Kansas State’s Keyontae Johnson cut to the basket. Nowell then threw a perfectly weighted lob to Johnson for a tie-breaking reverse dunk with less than a minute remaining in the Wildcats’ 98-93 overtime victory in the East regional semifinals.

Nowell’s alley-oop was the flashiest of his NCAA tournament single-game record 19 assists on Thursday night in a homecoming game at Madison Square Garden. The Harlem native also scored 20 points and nabbed five steals, propelling third-seeded Kansas State to its first Elite Eight appearance since 2018.

The lingering question in the wake of the alley-oop was whether Nowell and Tang staged their argument to purposefully distract Michigan State. Replays certainly made it appear intentional, but neither Nowell nor Tang would concede that.

Asked by reporters in New York if the discussion between him and Tang was “fake,” Nowell insisted it was “just a basketball play” between him and Johnson.

“We knew how Michigan State plays defense,” Nowell said. “They play high up, and Keyontae just told me, we got eye contact, and he was like, ‘lob, lob.’ I just threw it up, and he made a great play.”

Tang was not asked directly about the alley-oop during his news conference, but he spoke to’s Richard Johnson and denied trying to fake out Michigan State.

Trick play or not, it was a big play. Kansas State led the rest of the way as Michigan State’s Malik Hall split a pair of free throws on the Spartans’ next possession and then Ismael Massoud buried a big jump shot to expand the Wildcats’ advantage to three. When Michigan State failed to get a shot off on its final possession, Kansas State could celebrate.

Before the pivotal alley-oop, Nowell admitted that he turned to someone in the crowd and said, “Watch this.” Nowell said he was talking to former Detroit Pistons all-star Isiah Thomas, who was seated next to ex-Michigan State star Mateen Cleaves and other Spartans greats.

“I think he had a friend over there, and he was rooting for them,” Nowell said. “And I'm like, y'all not going to win today.”