2022 Cayman Islands Classic

Cayman Islands Classic: K-State's Hot Start Continues With Tournament Win

Cayman Islands Classic: K-State's Hot Start Continues With Tournament Win

The 2022 Cayman Islands Classic didn't disappoint, offering three days in the tropics with a title game that came down to the final seconds. K-State won.

Nov 24, 2022 by Briar Napier
Cayman Islands Classic: K-State's Hot Start Continues With Tournament Win

It's safe to say that this week's Cayman Islands Classic lived up to the hype.

Closing just in time for the Thanksgiving feasts around the country to take place, the event held at John Gray Gymnasium in George Town, Cayman Islands, didn't disappoint, closing off a thrilling three days in the tropics with a title game that came down to the final seconds.

There was a lot that was learned in the season's early goings about those in the tourney field, but some squads showed out and impressed, garnering themselves some deserved recognition - and in some cases, hardware to bring back to their campuses - as the nonconference slate of college basketball kicks into high gear soon.

Here's a recap of what went down at the Cayman Islands Classic this week, with Kansas State capturing the title Wednesday with a win over LSU.

The event was broadcast live on FloHoops.

Wildcats Win Wild Title Game

Kansas State coach Jerome Tang knows how to build a winning team. 

The 56-year-old sideline leader, after all, was an assistant for nearly two decades at Baylor with coach Scott Drew, being a major piece in resurrecting the Bears' program from scandal-caused ruins all the way to a national title in one of the finest modern-day coaching jobs in college basketball history. 

The Wildcats were hoping he could bring some of that magic to Manhattan, and six games into his K-State career, Tang already has his first piece of silverware. 

Kansas State beat Rhode Island, Nevada and LSU on successive days to clinch the crown at the Cayman Islands Classic, remaining unbeaten in the process, as the Wildcats now are 6-0 for the first time since 2018, when they eventually earned a No. 4 seed in that year's NCAA Tournament. 

A day after staving off the Wolfpack in overtime in the semifinal round, K-State saved its grittiest performance for last in the title game against the Tigers. 

Down by as many as 11 points in the second half, the Wildcats rallied late behind 18 points from Markquis Nowell and 16 points each from Keyontae Johnson and Desi Sills, with a Cam Carter jumper giving K-State a lead with under eight minutes left. 

A back-and-forth tussle that remained within a possession then closed the game out from there, and with the score tied at 59 and the time ticking down, Johnson knocked down a mid-range shot with 4.7 seconds to play to give the Wildcats a 61-59 lead. 

LSU had what appeared to be a game-tying layup that beat the buzzer, but the game's clock started late off of the inbound play, meaning the Tigers' shot came after the end of regulation and therefore was disallowed - giving K-State a thrilling comeback victory in the islands.

Keyontae Johnson's Comeback Continues

Speaking of Johnson, the senior from Virginia has emerged as one of the country's early feel-good stories of the year in being K-State's leading scorer through its first six games, less than two years after it was feared he'd potentially never play basketball again. 

A former standout at Florida who was first-team All-Southeastern Conference during the 2019-2020 season and the league's Preseason Player of the Year for his junior season the next year, the Johnson's season outlook changed when he collapsed on the floor during a game against Florida State in December 2022. 

He slipped into critical condition and a medically induced coma, before eventually making a recovery and returning to the team in a sideline role. 

Johnson didn't see the floor as a player for the rest of his junior and all of his senior seasons with the Gators as a result, but he was medically cleared to play this past offseason and transferred to Kansas State with one season of eligibility remaining. 

So far, it looks like he's barely lost a step from the long layoff. 

The 6-foot-6 forward has averaged 17.7 points per game in his Wildcats career and dumped 28 points on an 8-for-13 shooting effort against Nevada, then followed that up by hitting what proved to be the Cayman Islands Classic-winning shot in the title game against LSU. 

An early favorite for the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year award - and perhaps a dark-horse candidate for the league's Player of the Year, especially if K-State keeps its current run going -  Johnson's triumphant return has been welcomed by the college basketball world, though those defending him are struggling to keep up.

Nevada Impresses, Takes Third Place

Nevada has struggled a bit to find its footing since now-Arkansas coach Eric Musselman took the Wolfpack to three straight NCAA Tournaments from 2017-2019, but perhaps current coach Steve Alford has something cooking in Reno after his team looked strong and finished third at the Cayman Islands Classic.

UNR improved to 6-1 on the season. After dispatching of Tulane in the first round this week, Nevada took eventual champ K-State down to the wire in the semifinals, with the Wildcats eventually holding off the Wolfpack's charge in a 96-87 win, despite the fact the team had five players reaching double-digit scoring numbers. 

An Akron team coming off a March Madness appearance last season awaited in the consolation game, but Nevada held firm and got a 20-point performance from 7-footer Will Baker to push it past the Zips in a 62-58 win. 

The start to the year is the program's best since Musselman's final season in 2018-2019, when he helped coach the team to a 14-0 start and a 29-5 campaign overall.

With Oregon State transfer Jarod Lucas (17.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists per game thus far this year) looking to be a shrewd get from the offseason transfer portal following two double-figure per night scoring seasons with the Beavers in the Pac-12 Conference, this could be the year Nevada really takes a step forward for the first time in the Alford era. 

The always-tough Mountain West, with the likes of San Diego State, UNLV, Wyoming and other contenders, should make for a more comprehensive test of just where the Wolfpack's potential levels are, but it's so far, so good for the most part.