March 17, 2023
Greensboro, North Carolina, USA
Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State-77, Montana State-63
JEROME TANG: I would like to thank my Lord and Savior for this opportunity that He has given me, the many blessings that He has placed on my life. I know my profession is coaching, but my calling and passion is ministry, and I love being able to spend time around these young men and just help them to grow and become great husbands, become great fathers and leaders in their community. It's so much fun to do it through the game of basketball.
This is the best time of year for college basketball, and to be able to be a part of this and to get a win, you know, we never are going to take for granted winning. It's just so hard to do. As you look across the Tournament, you see the upsets. So we're just super thankful that we get to be together for another day and they get to hear me yell at them.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Coach first and then the players: You guys dominated the paint matchup 48-30. Was there something that you saw early on in the game that allowed you to take advantage of that, or how did you take advantage of the inside the paint matchup?
JEROME TANG: You know, we've been a paint point team all year long. It's just something that is an emphasis for us. Whether we get there by the dribble or the pass, it's just something that is a point of emphasis for us.
MARKQUIS NOWELL: I want to give all the glory for the Man above for giving me this opportunity, this platform to showcase my skills and my talents.
But like Coach said, it's the big emphasis on getting to the paint. When you get to the paint, it draws so much attention, and we have dynamic players, dynamic guards that can get to the paint and create for each other. You just saw it today. When we play together and for each other, we're a really good team.
NAE'QWAN TOMLIN: Today, I mean, that's pretty much a point of emphasis on our games pretty much. Getting paint touches, and that's just a better offense for us.
KEYONTAE JOHNSON: Basically what they said. I feel like we do a good job of attacking when a lot of other teams put two on the ball, we kick out and get the open three. I feel like that's part of our game style that we like to play.
Q. Coach, just got to ask, what lessons did you take from being an assistant coach in the tourney to now being the head man?
JEROME TANG: Well, first of all, that winning is hard. The hardest game to win is that first one. Not that any one gets easier, but it just doesn't get any harder as far as how many days you have to prepare for it. As you saw, Montana State did a great job of preparing. They caused us problems. What they did defensively, denying Markquis the ball.
The other thing is that you can't look at the whole bracket. We just look at one game. We forget about everybody else. You know, I've been a part of two consecutive years where we were the higher seed and lost. One on the buzzer beater, and another one that Yale pretty much took it to us.
So the seeding doesn't matter in college basketball. It's about that 40 minutes because the ball doesn't know seed numbers. It just knows hoopers. You've got to go get it.
Q. For each of the players, I just want to know it's a step-by-step process. Your first NCAA Tournament. Now your first NCAA Tournament win. What are the emotions of this moment?
KEYONTAE JOHNSON: It's big. A lot of us on the team haven't made it to the tournament yet, so we always preach just enjoy the moment, and we just try to go out there and have fun.
For us to get the win it showed how well-connected we were together and how much we love each other today.
NAE'QWAN TOMLIN: Today we just tried to take everything at a time, to go 1-0. So we don't focus on the other games, but the games that we play same day. So that's just what we try to do.
MARKQUIS NOWELL: Today was a blessing. I mean, we all have fun out there. It was a joy to be a part of that, but winning is even better when you get to do that.
Give credit to my teammates. Everybody contributed from the starters to the bench. We had big-time minutes from David, Tykei, Cam. You know, the people that's not up here also contributed and played well today, so we've got to show them some love too.
Q. Nae'Qwan, everyone kind of knows your story of not playing organized basketball on a team level until you got to college. To put on the performance you did in your first national event like this, what's that kind of mean to you to fight through early foul trouble like you did, the second half like you did to get your team to victory?
NAE'QWAN TOMLIN: I want to thank my teammates. They tried to keep me level-head and tried to keep my head up because when I get in foul trouble, I get down on myself. So they just try to, like, second half it's going to be your half. You're going to play smart. Try to stay out of foul trouble. This is definitely a dream come true, though.
Q. Markquis, this is for you: I believe you tied a career high in assists. What does that mean to you? Then I was going to ask Keyontae, just talk about Markquis as a playmaker.
MARKQUIS NOWELL: It's a blessing to tie my career high, but I have to give credit to my teammates for getting open and finishing the plays. It was just a well-executed ball game and game plan that the coaching staff came up with, and the players, we executed it. I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates.
KEYONTAE JOHNSON: Markquis, he is an excellent point guard. To me he could shoot, create for himself, and he sees the court at a high rate. When we get out on a fastbreak, he sees you, we are locked in and do what he executes. To have a point guard like that is a blessing really.
Q. Coach, I know you're basking in this win, but if you could look ahead to Kentucky, you saw the first game. There was pretty good home-court advantage for them. A lot of fans in the stands for them. What do you see from them? And talk about this upcoming matchup, if you can.
JEROME TANG: I really haven't thought much about it. I asked the guys to focus on one game. That's Montana State, and that's what I've done. We'll go back and watch film really and watch much of the first game.
This won't be my first time playing Kentucky. We broke their 55-game win streak when I was at Baylor at Rupp, and the other two times that we played them a neutral site we won. You know, I understand how the Cats travel, but our Cats travel too.
Q. Coach Tang, you recalled playing against RaeQuan Battle two years ago. Obviously he is a big part of MSU's offense today. What did you see in him today that you knew you had to deal with coming in, and were there any shades of what you saw two years ago?
JEROME TANG: I was disappointed that he had the braids today. When we played him at Washington, he had the fro. Had he it out, and it looked like he was 6'10". He is a big-time talent. He was making tough shots, and that's what big-time players do.
I thought he was really good at Washington. He is a high major player, and coaches did a great job of developing his game and allowing him to play free. You can just see the confidence that he has as a player. He is hard to guard. We were trying to limit his touches, and he just rolls up and made big shots after big shots.
Q. This one is for Markquis: You hit a three with about eight minutes left right when Montana State went to that 1-3-1. Looked like you gave a little flex to the crowd. Just curious, did you hear Montana State fans chirping? Was there a little message you were trying to send?
MARKQUIS NOWELL: No, I didn't hear them at all, but, you know, it's just a fun atmosphere, fun environment. I just -- that was just my time to showcase and flex a little bit.
Q. Coach Tang, I'm just curious, what are you proudest of when it comes to this game today? What pleased you the most?
JEROME TANG: Well, you know, defensively the fact that we knew that for them to win, they had to make threes or shoot twos at a really, really high rate. I felt like we did a really good job of making it tough on them.
The other thing is that they have for the season they made more free-throws than their opponents attempted, and so keeping them off the free-throw line was important to us, and we did a really good job of that.
Then for the most part we took care of the ball. You know, and our positive assist-to-turnover ratio gave us this opportunity.
Q. Coach, Montana State opened with the two bigs both on the floor, which is a look that they've shown a little bit this season, but not much. How much do you feel like that influenced the early game, and what was your kind of counter to that?
JEROME TANG: We were prepared for either one. I thought going on with the two bigs meant that they were going to try to take advantage of what was going on the inside, but really RaeQuan just stepped up and made shots early, so it wasn't the bigs that bothered us. It was him rising up and making really tough shots.
In the Big 12 we face all kinds of stuff. Double two bigs, four guards. You face it all. Through the course of the game, their line-up changed, so it wasn't necessarily how the game started that really impacted anything.
Q. Coach Tang, early in the second half Nae'Qwan had a couple of buckets. First bucket in the second half had a 6-0 run. Can you explain if at halftime that was a matchup that you wanted to exploit, and if so, why?
JEROME TANG: I just feel when these three guys are on the floor, like, we're hard to guard. So whenever Nae'Qwan stays out of foul trouble and, you know, is on the floor, he is a mismatch because it doesn't matter what position he is at. He is a positionless basketball player, as is Keyontae.
We just want him to be aggressive on the offensive end, and he was in the second half because he got to play and got 20 minutes. If we can get 30 out of him, then we might be really good.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports