We knew coming into Saturday night's game that this was going to be perhaps the most difficult contest left on the schedule. Kansas State has been red-hot at home and winning in Bramlage Coliseum, especially this season, has become quite the chore. Still, you have to wonder if Iowa State let one slip through their hands as the Wildcats prevailed at home, 80-73.
You can predict a loss (as I did), and attempt to prepare yourself for a setback, but after watching how this game played out and seeing the chances that the Cyclones squandered, it doesn't matter what type of mindset you had prior to tip-off. As a fan, you can't help but be disappointed.
The fact of the matter is that this game boiled down to effort versus execution. The Cyclones played with the requisite effort needed to win on the road, but failed to execute when it mattered and that made all of the difference.
In a 40-minute game, it's tough to isolate a certain player or stretch that did the Cyclones in, but if you're going to ask the "what if" question, one stretch in particular stands out. With 8:11 left in the game, DeAndre Kane buried a three-pointer to put Iowa State up 62-60. For the next 5:19 of game time, the Cyclones failed to score from the field. As bad as that was, the ultimate letdown came from the free throw line.
Iowa State was leading 62-61 after Thomas Gipson hit one of two free throws. On the other end of the floor, Dustin Hogue was fouled, but missed both attempts from the stripe. The Cyclones came up with a defensive stop and again, Hogue was fouled, but this time in a non-shooting situation, but still went to the line as Iowa State was in the bonus. Hogue failed to make the front end of the 1-and-1 and just like that, a chance to build a 5-point lead was blown. From there, K-State went on a 7-2 mini run and built a 4-point lead of their own.
Again, I don't want to pin this loss on Hogue, as that would simply be unfair. Hogue impacted the game in other areas, specifically on the glass by collecting 12 rebounds, including five on the offensive end. That stretch, however, was simply indicative of the type of game Iowa State had on Saturday night. The opportunities were there, but the Cyclones simply couldn't close the deal.
The fact that Iowa State was even in a position to steal a win speaks volumes about the efforts of seniors, Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane. Ejim scored 30 points and grabbed 16 rebounds (9 offensive) and was unquestionably, the best player on the court. Kane wasn't far behind, pouring in 24 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 6 assists. The pair accounted for 74% of Iowa State's scoring, converting 17 of the team's 23 field goals, 5 of the 7 made three-pointers and came up with 15 of the 20 makes from the line.
That unfortunately brings us to everyone else. Every player not named "Melvin Ejim" or DeAndre Kane" managed to shoot 6-35 (17%), which included a 3-14 performance from Georges Niang and an 0-8 effort from Naz Long. Kane and Ejim combined to hit 5-11 from deep, but the rest of the team clanked their way to a 2-16 performance from outside, highlighted by an 0-10 out of the trio of Long, Matt Thomas and Dustin Hogue.
Among other failed opportunities, Iowa State did exactly what you need to do in order to win on the road. The Cyclones attempted more shots from the field and the free throw line (never an easy thing to do in away games), grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and won the turnover battle. However, the Cyclones shot 34.8% as a team, missed the free throws that mattered, lost the second-chance points battle (18-16 in favor of K-State) despite being +8 on offensive rebounds, and only scored 11 points off 12 K-State turnovers.
Perhaps the most glaring statistic, though, comes in the form of bench points. Iowa State was outscored 38-2 by the Wildcat reserves, which included a combined 25 points by Shane Southwell and D.J. Johnson. Now, we've talked all season about how depth is overrated, but that doesn't mean the Cyclones can afford to only get two points out of Long and Thomas.
- This marked the second game in a row that Ejim picked up a technical foul. After burying a three, Ejim turned to Nino Williams and gestured or shouted something, which the official on sight saw as unnecessary, resulting in the "T". You have to love the fire and passion that Ejim is playing with, but he absolutely has to harness that emotion as it's hurting this team. Ejim had a monster game, but he went to the bench with his fourth foul with 7:55 left in game, which also coincided with the Cyclones' cold shooting streak.
- I want to preface what I'm about to say with a major qualifier. I absolutely love Georges Niang's game. There isn't a bigger fan of Niang out there than me. Since the end of last season, I've repeatedly said he's the most important player on this team and I still stick to that sentiment today. That being said, Niang absolutely has to expand his development in the off season, including his body control, low-post repertoire and offensive creativity. Niang is a special talent and I don't have any second thoughts about penciling him as the pre-season Big 12 player of the year for next season, but if he's going to ascend to that level, he's got to get back to work. As exceptional as his spin-move is, it's as predictable as Bruce Weber sweating through another suit. You know it's going to happen. Niang is an outstanding passer and with apologies to Bill Simmons, has a Panda Express menu of low-post options on the block. Niang is on the cusp of becoming a national star. What he does between April and November will determine if he gets there.
- With the loss, Iowa State now sits in a four-way tie with Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State. Here are the remaining schedules for all four teams.