EMAWOnline – Nae’Qwan Tomlin lives a ‘dream’ in K-State’s win over No. 14 at Montana St

GREENSBORO, NC. — about 11 months ago, Jerome Tang was approached by one of his best connected recruiters, Jareem Dowling. Dowling had found a little-known player who he believed would potentially be a highly effective member of Tang’s first team at Kansas State.

Dowling featured Tang Tape on a skinny, 6-foot-10 veteran athletic player who thrived at Chipola Junior College in 2021-22 but hadn’t played much organized basketball. The raw tools that the prospect played with on screen made Tang oohhhh And aaahhhh to the raw talent on his computer screen.

The player was Nae’Qwan Tomlin. And on Friday night, Tomlin helped the No. 3 Kansas State win their first NCAA tournament since 2018 when he gave the Wildcats 13 points in 6-on-9 shooting from the field in just 20 minutes.

Growing up in Harlem, New York, Tomlin did not play on organized basketball teams. Instead, he played with his closest friends on the famous black concrete outdoor courts. They played pick-up games against others on the hottest summer days and the coldest winter evenings. Tomlin didn’t play basketball for an official team until he enrolled at Monroe Community College in 2019-20.

Perhaps it’s a good thing Tomlin didn’t play organized basketball in his youth. If Tomlin had played for a youth team, he might not have been able to develop the ball handling, passing and defensive skills that make Tomlin a unique talent. Maybe a stupid coach would have put Tomlin – probably one of the tallest kids in his class – on the block and taught him to play with his back to the basket. Taught him to be a traditional big man, which Tomlin sure isn’t supposed to be.

Maybe none of that will happen. Nobody will ever know. What is known is that Tomlin was living a “dream” in Kansas State’s 77-65 win over Montana State on Friday night that helped K-State secure a date with No. 6 Kentucky in the Round of 32 on Sunday afternoon to settle Greensboro Coliseum.

“I never thought I’d play in a situation like this,” Tomlin said, eyes wide and a big smile on his face. “Especially the madness to win in March. This is the most watched thing in America right now. So it’s a dream come true.”

Tomlin’s night began more like a nightmare. A little over two minutes into the game, he was booed for an illegal screen, and Tang had to remove him for fear his often foul-prone player would get a second early whistle. At 13:42 in the first half – Tomlin did it. He fouled Montana State’s top scorer – RaeQuan Battle – while shooting a 3-point game that later turned into a 4-point game, giving Montana State a 12-10 lead.

Tomlin went to the bank.

He stayed on the bench for much of the next 13 minutes, though he played a couple of possession plays in the first half with nine minutes remaining before being removed again for the final 8:36.

In the halftime locker room, Kansas State held a six-point lead with stars Markquis Nowell And Keyontae Johnson both scored 12 first-half points for the Wildcats. Tang’s team allowed Montana State to score the last three points of the first half, creating a potential double-digit Kansas State lead instead of just a tenuous two-ball possession lead. Nowell and Johnson – the team’s leading leaders – challenged Tomlin to be aggressive in the second half.

“They tried to keep me levelheaded and keep my head up,” Tomlin said, “because when I get into trouble, I take care of myself. So they’re just trying to say that the second half will be your half, you’ll play smart and stay out of bad trouble.

And in the second half, it was Tomlin’s half. He scored on K-State’s first possession of the second half, an alley-oop pass that he gently flipped overhead for a soft bucket. With 16:37 left, he converted a skillful layup and sent the defender airborne about as high as Tomlin’s vertical. He then forced a steal on the defensive end and after a toss around the loose ball, Tomlin corraled it and finished another layup, giving K-State a 10-point advantage.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on getting the color,” Nowell said. “When you come to paint it draws so much attention and we have dynamic players, dynamic guardians who can come to paint and create for each other.”

Tomlin’s contribution to a toothy run early in the second half didn’t dashed hopes that Montana State would have to get back in the game. But they bloodied them badly. However, Kansas State maintained control of a three-point possession and Tominling converted two more layups, a dunk and a free throw to score all 13 points.

“We just want him to be aggressive on offense,” Tang said. “And he was in the second half because he had to play [because he wasn’t in foul trouble].”

Ten times when he faced Montana State on Friday, Tomlin recorded at least four fouls, including four disqualifications for personal fouls.

Kansas State encourages Tomlin to be aggressive when he plays, but they also really want him not to get into bad trouble. This is something an inexperienced player often struggles with, and because Tomlin’s experience level is not high, he is often guilty of mistakes that result in fouls.

“He’s still figuring that part out,” Nowell said. “He tries not to use his hands as much. But that second half gave him a boost of confidence and hopefully that carries over to Kentucky.”

Though Kansas State is higher seeded, it did not emerge as the betting favorite for Sunday’s game, and Kansas State has the seventh-best odds of any remaining team in the East Region to qualify for the Final Four. Kentucky, which is 22-11 this season, has the third best odds behind Duke and Marquette, according to FanDuel.

But Tang believes that if Tomlin can avoid nasty troubles and play meaningful minutes on Sunday, his team has a shot at qualifying for the Sweet 16 at New York’s Madison Square Garden next week.

If we can get 30[minutes]out of him,” Tang said, “then we could be really good.”

Source : kansasstate.rivals.com

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