Michigan State guard Tyson Walker practices before an NCAA Tournament...

Michigan State guard Tyson Walker practices before an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

The New York area has been producing top point guards for, it seems, forever. Their legacy runs as far back as players like Nate Archibald and Bob Cousy and continued through Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith and Isaiah Whitehead. It lives on today in players like Tyson Walker of Michigan State and Markquis Nowell of Kansas State.

Walker and Nowell will be going head-to-head at the Garden as the No. 7 Spartans (21-12) and No. 3 Wildcats (25-9) meet in Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. NCAA East Regional semifinal at the Garden. The late semifinal pits No. 9 Florida Atlantic (33-3) against fourth-seeded Tennessee (25-10).

“[It’s] just the environment that you're in, that you grow up in,” Nowell said of the legacy. “You have to be tough and hard-nosed or you won't get to play on the toughest basketball courts.”

It won’t be the first time. Walker is a Westbury product and played at Christ the King High in Queens. Nowell is from Harlem and played two seasons at Bishop Loughlin High in Brooklyn before spending his senior year at St. Patrick (N.J.).

“We played a couple times sophomore and junior year,” Walker said. “It’s definitely cool because we played each other a lot of times, but playing on this stage is even better.”

They have very different personalities, but have traveled similar paths to the Garden. Nowell has a brash exuberance, denoted by his @MisterNewYorkCityy handle on Twitter and #IRunNewYork Instagram tagline, and transferred to K-State after two seasons at Arkansas-Little Rock. Walker’s confidence is more understated and he transferred to the Spartans after two seasons at Northeastern.

Kansas State guard Markquis Nowell, front center, practices before an...

Kansas State guard Markquis Nowell, front center, practices before an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/Adam Hunger

“He's not from the heart of the city, but he does have that swagger about him,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Sometimes the New York swagger is a very cocky swagger, and sometimes that's good. He's kind of had the happy medium. He's got enough cockiness to be confident, and yet he's an unbelievable kid.”

Each was essential in reaching Thursday’s game. Walker had 23 points as the Spartans upset No. 2 Marquette. Nowell had 27 points and nine assists as K-State toppled No. 6 Kentucky, a feat that was overshadowed when John Calipari referred to him as a “little kid” and later apologized for.

Nowell is averaging 17.1 points and 7.8 assists. Walker averages 14.8 points and 2.8 assists, but is best known for his lockdown defense.

Another New York area point guard is at the Garden, but won’t be playing. Wyandanch product Zakai Ziegler was Tennessee’s leading scorer tore his ACL in the regular season finale and had surgery last weekend while the Vols were winning two games in Orlando.

“My teammates knew I wanted to get here,” said Ziegler, who attended Upper Room in Dix Hills and then Our Savior Lutheran in the Bronx. “It’s tough not playing but my guys will get it done.”

“There's no way he wasn't going to come back here and be a part of it,” Vols coach Rick Barnes said. “But you do feel for him because he understands the Garden probably more than anybody in that locker room . . . We all wish that he were playing.”

The three point guards aren’t the only ones with New York connections at the regional. Stony Brook transfer Tykei Greene, Hofstra transfer Abayomi Iyiola and Harlem products Ismael Massoud and Nae’Qwan Tomlin all play for Kansas State.

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