Iowa State faced their first true road test of the season tonight against Cincinnati and came away with a thrilling 81-79 victory on the back of an Abdel Nader three pointer with 11 seconds left. Although this game will be remembered for the late heroics by Nader on both ends of the floor; it was the first half effort by the Cyclones that set the tone for the entire 40 minutes.
Flipping the script from the previous games this season, Iowa State came out aggressive and purposeful on defense and forced three Cincinnati turnovers en route to an 11-2 lead just three minutes in to the game. After a Bearcats' adjustment the teams settled in by trading blows throughout the first half, however with a little over two minutes left in the half the lead had surged to 13 points in favor of the Cyclones.
A small dose of McCarney Ball created long possessions and poor shot selection for Iowa State, which provided Cincinnati ample opportunity for a small 6-0 run, and after a few traded scoring possessions it was the Cyclones who led 45-38 at halftime.
The early part of the second half played out much like the majority of the first with the teams trading back and forth and Cincinnati doing just enough with their matchup zone to keep Iowa State in a funk offensively. Although the Cyclones never actually gave up the lead until the 4:26 mark it felt more and more like Cincinnati's game to lose. Credit the Cyclones for keeping Cincinnati within four points after losing the lead, which was just enough to let some late game magic take over.
A Georges Niang three tied the game at 78 with 1:25 left, and a Monte Morris steal looked like it might finally give the Cyclones the momentum back. However, it was Cincinnati that broke the tie with a Troy Caupain free throw to give the Bearcats a one point lead heading in to what was presumably Iowa State's last possession.
Then it was Nader, sitting alone in the corner after missing his four previous three point attempts, who received the pass from Niang, and promptly buried a three over the outstretched hands of two Bearcats' defenders.
BIG! Here is Nader's game-winning 3 and defensive stop on the other end! (courtesy ESPN2) https://t.co/F3d5mZplBN— Cyclone Basketball (@CycloneMBB) December 23, 2015
A hurried Cincinnati possession actually resulted in three shot attempts in a span of four seconds. The first, a step back three by Caupain, was well short of the rim due to Nader's defense. The second, a putback attempt by Gary Clark, was also short. And the third, which would have counted, was a 26 footer by Farad Cobb that hit the back of the rim.
And with that final shot attempt the Cyclones find themselves 10-1 and off for a full week. For the first time all season the Cyclones looked like a team who could punch and punch back for 40 minutes and finally showed some of the grit and toughness that defined the Sweet Sixteen squad from two seasons ago.
This might not be the 'Nati we want, but for now it's the 'Nati we deserve.
Iowa State will be back in action on Wednesday, December 30th at 7:00 PM against Coppin State. The game can be found on Cyclones.tv.