by Gabe Swartz • EMAWOnline – Staff Writer

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Seven games remain on the regular season schedule for the Kansas State Wildcats and first-year head coach Jerome Tang. But with those games on the schedule and more to come depending on the Wildcats’ success in the postseason, senior guard Markquis Nowell has already put together a performance surpassing anything done in Manhattan before.

On Tuesday night, the 5-foot-8 guard tallied a game-high 18 points and seven assists in an 82-61 victory over No. 17 TCU, the latter accomplishment breaking the Kansas State single-season record for assists.

Nowell’s seventh assist of the night — and 187th of the season — came on a simple dribble hand-off action with senior forward Keyontae Johnson, who knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a 74-59 lead in the midst of an 11-0 run to close the Horned Frogs out.

The assist helped him surpass Steve Henson’s mark from the 1987-88 campaign, in which he averaged 5.5 assists per game in 34 games played.

“Passing him is a blessing,” Nowell said following the 12th win at Bramlage Coliseum this season for K-State. “It just shows how unselfish I am and he was at K-State. When you have a group of guys like we have here it’s easy to get assists and it’s easy to make plays for others.”

As much as Nowell’s near half-court heaves have garnered attention nationally — Tuesday night with a post from ESPN’s main Twitter account — it’s been his work for others that is indicative of the season the 12th-ranked Wildcats are having.

“Anytime you do an all-time record that is the most in history, that’s a really big deal and Steve Henson is a really big deal around here,” said Tang. “The guys that Steve Henson played with were really good players and so it says two things. First of all, ‘Quis was blessed with vision and he has a willingness to pass the ball.”

Against the Horned Frogs, Nowell’s seven assists went to five different players.

“Second, we’ve got some really good players around him, too, because they are putting it in the hole,” Tang continued. “So, it says a lot about him and a lot about our team. It’s a great honor.”

In the 1987-88 season, Henson had future NBA star Mitch Richmond on the receiving end of numerous assists and Kansas State made an Elite Eight appearance. This year, Nowell has Johnson as a running mate to help him and the Wildcats to a 19-5 record and some grand plans in the postseason.

“Honestly speaking, I try not to focus on it,” said Nowell of postseason bracket projections. Various sites have the Wildcats forecasted between a 3 and 4 seed in the latest updates. “We have a couple games left and I try to be where my feet is at. But it’s a blessing to even be mentioned in the bracket or March Madness and knowing that we’re in solid shape to be in the tournament.”

Henson’s record was set in 34 games. Nowell broke it in his 24th game of the season. Regardless of how far Kansas State’s postseason run takes them, Nowell should far surpass the previous record. But his impact on winning cannot be overstated for Tang’s group.

Ranked in the top 15 for the fifth consecutive week, Kansas State entered play against TCU following two consecutive losses. On Saturday, Tang called the 14-point blown lead to Texas unacceptable. Three days later, he said it was Nowell who took that personally.

“I’m proud of the kid,” Tang said. “That young fella, he took the last loss really hard and I was proud of how he responded today.”

In the first half, Nowell came out firing with his own shots. Johnson picked up multiple early fouls, one on an offensive hook and another on a questionable charge call. With Johnson absent from the lineup for most of the first 20 minutes, Nowell scored 10 points and assisted on just two scores, one of which came on a slick wrap-around pass that produced a layup for junior forward David N’Guessan.

After the break, Nowell figured out the game flow and got others involved. Nowell found senior guard Desi Sills for a 3-pointer on the wing that gave Kansas State a 51-40 lead, the first double-digit advantage of the night for the Wildcats.

Without his top guard Mike Miles sidelined with a hyper-extended knee, TCU head coach Jamie Dixon complimented Nowell’s veteran presence.

“A fifth-year guy that has played like 40 minutes per game for like five years, they get better,” Dixon said. “That’s what you see with him. There’s a number of guys in our league and it just seems like they get better — as they should — it means they care, it means they improve. He got better during that time. He played well today.”

Nowell’s performance added to an All-American-level season for the guard from New York, who helped Kansas State improve to 7-4 in Big 12 play and stay afloat in the conference race during the first season with Tang leading the way.

“We still have a lot to go,” Nowell said. “I’m trying to get to a 2 seed or 1 seed if possible, but I don’t look too far ahead.”

But no matter how far ahead he looks, Nowell’s court vision will probably find him a few more assists.