(Before we get to the recap, I want to apologize for not getting this up sooner. The always stellar event parking/traffic staff at Hilton Coliseum proved yet again why they are completely and utterly incompetent when it comes to directing traffic. More on this later)
It was Hilton Magic, then it wasn't, then it was again, then it looked iffy and finally, it was decidedly magic after all in a wild, 85-81 Iowa State overtime victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday afternoon.
Down 16 early in the second half, Iowa State rallied back with a 12-0 run and eventually took a six-point lead and had the look of a team that was decidedly in control. Instead of withering though, the Cowboys fought back and held a five-point edge with under two minutes to play and with Phil Forte at the line (90% free throw shooter by the way) and a chance to seal the game, Forte only hit one of two free throws, giving the Pokes a three-point lead with only five seconds left. That was all Naz Long needed to bury a game-tying three pointer at the buzzer and send the game into overtime. In the extra session, with Melvin Ejim already fouled out, the Cyclones flirted with failure a little too much for comfort, lost Georges Niang to foul trouble and trailed Oklahoma State by one with 35 seconds to play. On the ensuing possession, DeAndre Kane drove the lane and had his shot blocked by Markel Brown, but managed to corral the loose ball and bank in a gimme and the Cyclones hit their free throws to seal the win.
(mandatory pause so we can all take a breath)
Being at the game, it appeared that the fans and team all seemed a little too content with the story line of sending Ejim and Kane out with an easy Senior Day victory, but Oklahoma State refused to buy into that narrative. The Cowboys played like the team that was expected to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 crown and for much of this game, Travis Ford's team simply outplayed Iowa State.
The Cyclones are fortunate to come away with their 23rd victory and make no mistake about it, beat a dangerous team in doing so. We know that Oklahoma State has battled injuries and suspensions for the last two months of conference play, but this is still a very good team and to put into perspective just how deep the Big 12 is, the Cowboys will arrive in Kansas City next Wednesday as the league's 8th seed. The league's 8th-place team is going to make the NCAA tournament and despite today's loss, really isn't even on the bubble. Yeah.
At 11-7, the Cyclones finished tied for 3rd in the league with Texas, but the Longhorns get the tiebreaker as they were able to knock off league champion, Kansas, earlier in the year. Iowa State will take on Kansas State in the 4 vs. 5 game at 11:30 AM CST next Thursday morning.
- This wasn't exactly the senior send-off Melvin Ejim was hoping for on an individual level, but listening to Ejim talk to Eric Heft on the post-game radio show, you could practically hear him smiling through the airwaves. Above all else, Ejim has always put winning first and foremost and the only thing he cares about right now was coming away victorious the last time he played in Hilton Coliseum. That being said, Ejim still had a solid day, scoring 12 points and pulling down 8 rebounds before fouling out. Really, that stat line pretty much sums up Ejim's career; a double-double threat that was always prone to a few fouls here and there (regardless of how ridiculous some of them were...and believe me, there were plenty of ridiculous calls), but he always played his ass off and left it all out on the floor and more often than not, he was on the winning side.
- The other senior on display today was Kane. While Ejim didn't have an outstanding individual game, you better believe that Kane did. The 6'4" guard scored 27 points, dished out 8 assists and pulled down 7 rebounds all while bettering Marcus Smart for the second time this season. A major concern many of us shared prior to Iowa State's first match up with Oklahoma State was whether or not Kane would play "hero ball" and try to do too much in his showdown with the future lottery pick. Instead, Kane made winning plays, got his teammates involved and put a stamp on the "who's the best player on the floor" debate. Kane truly had some highlight moments on the day, but I don't know that I'll ever forget his last minute of overtime. With a chance to give Iowa State the lead in a tied game, Kane went to the line and clanked both of free throw attempts, allowing Oklahoma State's Markel Brown to hit one of two free throws on the other end to give the Cowboys a one-point lead. A timeout was called and a clearly dejected Kane sauntered over to the Iowa State bench. You could feel his pain as in his mind, he may have just cost his team a chance to win the game. Kane could have sulked away the remainder of the game, but instead, he scored the go-ahead basket and got a chance to extend the lead a possession later and nailed both free throws in the process. I don't need to rehash Kane's life, but this young man has fought through adversity both on and off the court for all of his 24 years and that last minute was strangely symbolic of who Kane has become as not only an athlete, but a man. Kane milked his time on the court afterward, taking a victory lap and a bow and was the last Cyclone to leave the floor. This may have been Ejim's day, but Kane earned the right to exit the Hilton Coliseum floor in the manner that he did.
- 3SUS!!! IT'S A 3SUS MIRACLE!!! HOLY SCHNIKES!!! OMG!!!! We've talked all week about how Ejim is Iowa State's favorite Canadian, but pardon me Mr. Ejim, you may have company. For the second time this year, Naz Long nailed a game-tying three against the Cowboys to breath new life into Iowa State and extend the game. In case you haven't realized it yet, the spot where he hit his buzzer beater today was basically the exact location where Scott Christopherson banked in a game-winner two years earlier to knock off the Cowboys. Between these clutch shots and the 2011 upset of the #2 Cowboys' football team, Iowa State might be entering into Sooner levels of hate in the Stillwater area. But back to Long's game. Aside from his clutch trey, Long played an outstanding basketball game. Defensively, he was an absolute pest and scored 14 points overall while hitting 3-5 from deep.
- The other sophomore that came up big was the future of Iowa State basketball, Georges Niang. "Old Man" Niang struggled shooting (9-25), but hit enough shots to compile 22 points in 37 minutes while grabbing 6 rebounds and amazingly, blocking two shots. Niang didn't exactly break out of his recent shooting slump (5-25 the two games prior), but 22 points is 22 points, amiright?
- Outside of the big three (and 3SUS), Dustin Hogue guarded everyone from 6'3" Markel Brown to 6'9" Kamari Murphy and pulled down 12 rebounds. Hogue's defense really stood out and between him, Long and Monte Morris, I thought Iowa State turned in a very good defensive effort. Morris failed to score, but he effectively chased Phil Forte all over the floor and I thought he was brilliant on that end. I would love to know how many miles Forte logs in a game because he absolutely does not stop moving. Sure enough, however, Morris was right there in Forte's hip pocket all game long and kept the sharpshooter from getting too comfortable on the perimeter.
- On the other side of the stat sheet, Smart and Brown scored 27 and 26 points respectively, but Forte was the only other Cowboy to reach double figures, notching 13 points. Oklahoma State shot 41.7% overall, but hit 10-24 outside as long-range shooting gave them a chance to win.
- I've watched Marcus Smart play on television who knows how many times over the last two years and during that span, I've often stood up and defended him as a player. Earlier in the year, I argued that NBA GMs would be fools to pass on him in favor of one of the super freshmen like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon. Well, I was wrong. Smart is an extremely talented basketball player and does have a bright future ahead of him, but seeing him in person today, I worry about how his career will play out at the next level. Smart has improved his jumper and is a capable defender and ball handler, but he is not the next Derrick Rose or John Wall or Kyrie Irving. He looks to the refs for bail-out calls more than he looks to his head coach for guidance and while Big 12 officials allow that despicable flopping to happen, something tells me that at the next level, there will be some "self-policing" if Smart continues to employ this style of play. And on that note, bravo to the student section. The planned "flopping" was flawlessly executed and the mob mentality as a whole that swept the entire arena after Smart blatantly flopped in the second half was an appropriate and deserved reaction directed Smart's way.
- Okay, I mentioned it in the open, but what in the hell is going on with the traffic staff that runs things at Hilton Coliseum? I've been bitching about this for years, but today really struck a nerve. I don't know who's in charge of directing traffic after games, but it's time they be exposed for their utter failure to have any inkling of a clue as to what they're doing. There's no reason it should take people an hour to get out of the lots after a game.
Alright, that's enough bitching. Today is about celebrating a great victory and honoring two seniors who are arguably the two most valuable players in the Big 12 conference. Congratulations to Melvin and DeAndre and thank you for all of the memories.