24-7, 35-14. Cyclone football fans know they can't be comfortable with any leads in football. That's why ISU fans love basketball. After all, a 15 point lead at any point in any game should make fans comfortable when watching Georges Niang and Monte Morris run up and down the court. But that was not the case tonight, as the Cyclones blew a 15 point first half lead and dropped their second game at Hilton this season to West Virginia, 81-76.
The Cyclones were off to a hot start, as Georges Niang scored on the first possession of the game and found Jameel McKay on a lob the following possession, who was able to lay in the easy bucket. A few quick trips down the court later, Matt Thomas hit back to back threes. But the West Virginia offense wasn't afraid to pound it inside on the Cyclones, as Esa Ahmad and Nathan Adrian made nice post moves and put in difficult shots. Five minutes in, the Cyclones held a 10-6 lead.
The Cyclones continued to use the Thomas blueprint, as Niang and Monte Morris each drilled a three. After sucking the Mountaineer defense to the perimeter, ISU took advantage inside, as Morris made two nice plays to find McKay and Deonte Burton for big dunks, forcing a West Virginia timeout. 10 minutes in the game, the Cyclones were up 21-8.
After a streak of making six straight field goals, Jordan Ashton ended his cold spell and drilled a three in which Daxter Miles Jr. responded to with a nice dunk. The West Virginia offense wasn't going down without a fight, and continued to get the ball to the paint. The plan worked (when they weren't getting stuffed by Burton) and the Mountaineers closed the gap to just a nine point game.
The Cyclones were hurt when they lost Niang to foul trouble in the half. After some sloppy offense and a silly foul that led to an old fashioned three point play by Abdel Nader, West Virginia was able to make it a 4 point play, forcing Iowa State coach Steve Prohm to put Niang back in.
Unfortunately, Niang wasn't able to get the job done, as a silly turnover led to an easy layup for WVU, and it was just a one point game before back to back fouls in the press allowed Thomas to make two free throws. Morris was able to lob it up to McKay in the final seconds of the half for the alley-oop, but after allowing a 26-9 run to end the half, the Cyclones held just a 37-33 lead heading into the locker room.
Iowa State had 10 assists on 13 field goals for the half and made 6 of their 11 three point attempts. Burton and McKay had 2 blocks each, while Morris had 6 assists and 0 turnovers. The defense was great as well, allowing no made threes, and forcing 10 turnovers.
What hurt the Cyclones during the WVU comeback was silly turnovers. The Cyclones ended the half with 10 turnovers, a telling stat when the man who handles the ball the most on offense didn't turn the ball over once. Along with that, West Virginia nearly doubled Iowa State in rebounds, 20-11, nine of which were on the offensive side of the ball.
Niang came out of the half drilling a three, as did Nader, but the Cyclone defense got sloppy and allowed two baskets under the basket, along with a three, to keep West Virginia still in the game. Nader responded by driving to the hoop and hitting a shot off the glass.
But a late rotation on defense allowed Ahmad to throw down a thunderous dunk, and a frustrated Niang gave up a sloppy turnover passing the ball in, giving the Mountaineers an easy two points, and just like that, Iowa State was down 46-45 heading into the first media timeout of the second half.
Jaysean Paige wasn't going to let West Virginia slow down, either, as he easily stole the ball out of the time out and put in a layup to give West Virginia the three point lead. Morris responded with a layup, but another awful pass by Niang out of bounds on a 3 on 2 fastbreak allowed West Virginia to come down and drill a three, giving them a four point lead, as the game appeared to be slipping away from the Cyclones.
After Nader made a nice move to the basket, Iowa State allowed another second chance 3-point shot for the Mountaineers, in which they capitalized, and the lead grew to six. But Nader became a one man wrecking crew, drawing a foul while driving to the hoop and drilling both free throws to put the Cyclones within four again.
The defense came out of the under-12 timeout with the same energy they showed at the beginning of the game, and forced enough stops to get the offense back into it. After Thomas hit a three from the corner and Burton made two free throws to snap a 3-10 streak to start the half, the Cyclones were back within one, and the Hilton crowd sprung to life.
Iowa State forced a turnover and Niang completed and a 3-point play after getting fouled at the hoop. After allowing a quick basket on the other end for WVU, the game was tied at 60 heading into the under-8 media timeout.
The timeout brought back Jaysean Paige for West Virginia, who made a long two to put the Mountaineers back on top. After two more ugly turnovers from Niang, Paige made another quick layup and it was a two possession game. Nader, having one of his best halves in his Cyclone career, hit another three to cut the lead to one and Prohm called a timeout to try and preserve the momentum.
Out of the timeout, Thomas showed off his fancy footwork and drilled a long step-back three to give the Cyclones the lead again. After getting a rest, Niang found a mismatch and went straight to work, driving in and hitting a shot off the glass to give the Cyclones a four point lead, forcing Bob Huggins to call a timeout.
The timeout proved beneficial, as Nathan Adrian hit a three and Paige made another nice move to get to the basket and tie the game up. Niang kept fighting however, and after a few missed tip-ins, was finally able to get the roll to put the Cyclones back up 72-70 with 1:55 to play.
McKay was hit with a foul on the other end, and Devin Williams made both to tie the game up. After a missed opportunity on an open alley-oop and another turnover for Niang, the Cyclones were forced to sprint on the defensive end, where they created another fastbreak turnover in which Morris found Nader for the easy layup. However, an unfortunate bounce off a would-be turnover from Williams went straight to Paige, who hit a three to give the Mountaineers a one point lead. After a missed open runner from Morris inside the free throw line and a quick foul, the Mountaineers led 75-74 with 0:41 remaining in the game.
Williams hit two free throws to give WVU a three point lead. Niang missed a runner and forced another foul on Williams. Williams then missed the first free throw, but all four Iowa State defenders forgot their jobs and allowed an easy offensive rebound, despite West Virginia only having one man try and get the board. After making a few more free throws off of sloppy possessions on offense, the Mountaineers pulled out the victory, 81-76.
ISU gave up a 13 point lead against a West Virginia team whose defense was nowhere near as rabid as it typically is. In addition, Niang's nine turnovers were more than the rest of the team combined, an unacceptable stat for a team's star. The Cyclones also shot 6-13 from the stripe in the second half.
It was a lack of basic fundamentals that hurt ISU tonight, and they'll need to be clean that up if they want to remain in the Big 12 title hunt.
Iowa State will look to get back on track against Oklahoma State on Saturday, February 6th at 1 P.M. on ESPN 2.