Coming into Tuesday night's game, the conversation centered around the unpredictable nature of this Iowa State team. Capable of beating anyone, yet vulnerable against the lesser teams in the conference, the Cyclones rose to the challenge and defended home court while also exacting revenge for an earlier loss this season by beating #19 Texas, 85-76.
With the win, Iowa State hit the 20-win plateau for the third straight season and moved their conference record to 8-5. The Cyclones now sit just one game back of Texas and picked up the 7th victory of the year over a ranked foe.
This win was everything this Iowa State team has become in a nutshell. There were moments of brilliant "spurtability" mixed with displays of abysmal execution. Iowa State held double-digit leads and promptly proceeded to cough them up. For Fred Hoiberg's crew, the middle ground has all but eroded between stellar and stupid.
Still, despite coughing up a 12-point second-half lead, Iowa State managed to respond down the stretch and put the game away in closing time.
The Cyclones were led by the trio of Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang and DeAndre Kane, who each scored at least 20 points in the win. Ejim paced the scoring with 25 points on 9-14 shooting, hitting 2-5 from deep and 5-6 from the line. Niang finished with 20 and hit on 8-15 from the floor, including 2-6 from outside and 1-2 from the stripe. Kane chipped in 22 behind 7-13 shooting, 2-4 from three-point range and knocked down 6-10 free throws.
I noted in the preview that Texas was averaging just over 14 offensive rebounds per game and that Iowa State was going to have a difficult time winning if the Longhorns managed to hit that number. Well, the 'Horns grabbed 20 offensive rebounds, but failed to convert on many of their second chance opportunities and shot just 32.9% overall.
After turning it over 18 times in Austin, Iowa State cut their give-aways down to only 6 on Tuesday night, while dishing out 21 assists on their 30 made field goals. The Cyclones also cut their team fouls down from 26 in the earlier meeting to only 16 on in the revenge match.
Texas was outstanding from the line, hitting on 23-25 of their free throws, but Iowa State was good enough (17-24) to put the game away and keep the Longhorns at arm's length.
The Cyclones received solid contributions from Monte Morris, Dustin Hogue and Matt Thomas. Morris, who leads the country in assist-to-turnover ratio continued to bolster his already ridiculous numbers with a 6-assist, 0-turnover night. Hogue did Hogue things, scoring a quiet 9 points and pulling down 7 rebounds. Thomas knocked down 2-4 from deep and scored 7 points while also dishing out 3 assists and picking up 2 steals.
For a variety of reasons, this was an enormous win for Iowa State, but perhaps chief among them is that this now gives the Cyclones a chance to be in a tie for second place in the Big 12 after this weekend. Texas leaves Ames with the loss and things don't get any easier as they head to Lawrence on Saturday to take on Kansas. Iowa State hits the road as well, traveling to Fort Worth to battle with TCU in a very winnable road game. If the chalk prevails, it will leave Iowa State and Texas (and the winner of the Oklahoma-Kansas State tilt) in a three-way tie for second place.
Back to this game, though. This was the type of effort we needed to see out of this Cyclone team. Texas is a very good team and it was impressive how Iowa State controlled this game down the stretch. With just under 7 minutes to play, the Cyclones held a tense 5-point lead, but in the span of three possessions, increased that lead to 10 and effectively put the game out of reach for the Longhorns.
This Cyclone team needed this type of confidence-building win and this could propel this team to a strong finish down the stretch. A conference championship might not be in the picture, but a top 2-3 finish in conference play is absolutely in play.