Iowa State enters the NCAA tourney with a three-game high after winning Big 12 tourney
Randy Peterson, firstname.lastname@example.org
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Iowa State sent another loud, clear, strong message at the Sprint Center on Saturday night, its biggest thus far during a season where, quite honestly, its best may be yet to come.
Cyclones 78, Kansas 66, in the Big 12 Conference Tournament championship game.
Make room for another trophy, and this one just might be the most impressive of them all.
“When we’re together and playing like we did these games, nobody in the country can beat us,” tourney MVP Marial Shayok said. “Once we’re right and we’re playing together, we can beat anybody.”
You probably thought Iowa State’s men’s basketball season was, for all practical purposes, a lost cause while it suffered through that late-season drought. You probably thought the Big 12 tournament would be a one-and-done affair.
You were wrong.
Steve Prohm’s gritty and determined guys proved doubters incorrect again.
The league tournament title is back in Ames for the fourth time in six years.
First, Baylor. Then, Kansas State. And Saturday, it was Kansas, before one of the loudest crowds to ever watch a Big 12 title game.
“We have a talented group,” Prohm said, while searching for his family on a basketball floor of celebrating Iowa State players, coaches and families. “We had some ups and downs during season and kind of fell off the radar. Hopefully, we got back on the radar a little bit.”
The Cyclones enter NCAA Selection Sunday with 23 wins, and three impressive victories in a row. If they play like they did during this tournament, can anyone say Sweet 16? After Thursday’s quarterfinal game, Baylor coach Scott Drew even used the words “Cyclones” and “Final Four” in the same sentence.
“Iowa State is the best offensive team in our league,” Kansas coach Bill Self said afterwards. “They can go deep (in the NCAAs).”
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Iowa State controlled this one from the tip, outplaying the third-seeded Jayhawks on both ends of the floor not only with enthusiastic hustle, but also solid play. The Cyclones led 32-22 at the break, after a first 20 minutes that included guards Nick Weiler-Babb and Lindell Wiginton combining for nine rebounds.
Kansas’ Dedric Lawson, on fire recently from 3-point range, didn’t even get one off in the first half. That’s how well Iowa State played on the defensive end.
“We did a great job defensively, for the most part,” Prohm said. “That’s what won the game for us.”
The early post play was solid, too, considering Mike Jacobson got two quick fouls and played just nine first-half minutes. The combination of Cam Lard and George Conditt saw to it that the Cyclones didn’t skip a beat. They combined for six rebounds, two blocked shots and many shot alterations during their replacement stints.
That’s nothing; Iowa State’s early second half included a 7-0 scoring binge, a 39-24 lead and Self calling a timeout just 2:01 after intermission. In a run bridging both halves, the Cyclones outscored the Jayhawks 20-3. That’s impressive.
The Jayhawks regrouped. They cut the Cyclones’ lead to 10 points before freshman Tyrese Haliburton splashed a long 3-pointer from in front of Iowa State’s bench.
Wigginton scored 17 points and grabbed six rebounds. Jacobson and Haliburton each blocked two shots. And you know those long scoring runs Kansas authors so often?
None, unless you call a couple 7-0 spurts big.
“We just kept our foot on their neck,” Talen Horton-Tucker said. “Every hit they hit us with, we hit them back.”
There were questions about how much energy the Cyclones had, after playing so hard in the first two games. That was the concern among fans hanging out Saturday afternoon at the trendy Power and Light District.
An unfounded concern. Nick Weiler-Babb played 38 minutes, during which he had five assists and three steals. Shayok played 38 tough minutes. Haliburton played 33.
They hustled as much at the end of the game as they did at the start.
People have wondered a lot about this upwardly trending team — like how far Prohm’s guys can go in the NCAA Tournament, if they string together games like they did in Kansas City.
“Everybody counted us out,” Horton-Tucker said. “We did it. We came back and proved that we’re the best team in the Big 12. We out-toughed everybody.
“We’re something serious. We’re a team everybody has to watch out for.”
That’s if they continue to play like the team that left this tournament with three wins in a row, and not like the team that came to Kansas City with a three-game losing streak.
“We envisioned this since last spring,” Shayok said. “The world is ours, if we stay together.”
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been with the Register for parts of five decades. Randy writes opinion and analysis of Iowa State football and basketball. You can reach Randy at email@example.com or on Twitter at @RandyPete.
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Source: Des Moines Register