Naz Mitrou-Long has earned the nickname "Cowboy Killer." After all, he's had multiple clutch shots in key moments against Oklahoma State to lead Iowa State on to victory. But it was the absence of Jameel McKay that kept Cyclone fans wondering how this game would turn out.
Two weeks after snap chatting for the world to know that he was tired of Ames, Iowa and informing the media that he wasn't sure what his future looked like, the Iowa State coaching staff felt McKay needed to spend a little time in the college town that has always treated him nicely. And his presence was proved unnecessary, as the Cyclones were able to come out of Stillwater with a nice road victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys, 64-59.
Iowa State had perhaps its coldest start of the season, scoring no points until the 14:13 mark. Until that time, the Cyclones went 0-5 from the field, and turned the ball over 5 times. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State's Leyton Hammonds drilled a three to help boost Oklahoma State to a 10-0 start until Deonte Burton's three helped Iowa State start it's climb out of the hole it had dug itself in.
Unfortunately, the Burton three was all the Cyclones could muster, as Georges Niang brought the same game to Stillwater as the one he played in Ames against West Virginia, starting out 0-5, and having 2 of the teams 7 turnovers. After his second foul just 8 minutes into the game, Niang was forced to take a seat, giving ISU Coach Steve Prohm even less options for players than he had before.
Iowa State received some luck, however, as their defense was able to keep them in the game. The Cowboys weren't able to take much of an advantage of the poor start by the Cyclones. Matt Thomas finally gave the Cyclones a boost after drilling a three. Hustling on defense, he got a quick turnover where Iowa State was able to take advantage and find Burton open for another three, and despite scoring a total of just 3 points until the 9:30 mark, by the 8:52 mark, just 38 seconds later, the Cyclones were down just three points. After Burton was fouled after getting a rebound, the under 8 timeout was called, and OSU held a 12-9 lead.
Hallice Cooke, who many assumed would get more playing time with McKay missing, did his best in his first opportunity in his big tryout, drilled a three out of the corner after the timeout to tie the game. Shortly after, Monte Morris came down to hit a three. After a quick 12-0 run, most of which came with Jordan Ashton and Simeon Carter on the floor, Iowa State held a 15-12 lead until a Hammonds jumper for Oklahoma State ended the run. That sparked a 6-0 run by Oklahoma State, who took at 18-15 lead until Thomas hit his second three of the game to tie the game up with 4:37 remaining in the first half.
Oklahoma State never backed down. Every time Iowa State made a push in the first half, the Cowboys were able to push back. After Hammonds made another jumper, the Cowboys held a 22-18 lead that was cut to just a two point lead after Burton made a nice drive to the basket. After getting put back in, Niang finally drilled his first shot off a left handed hook to tie the game at 22. After a tip-in by Tavarius Shine, the Cowboys held a 24-22 lead at the break.
While losing is never ideal, the Cyclones couldn't have asked to be in a better position after one of the worst starts in recent school history. After turning the ball over 8 times in the first ten minutes, they turned it over just once the final ten. They also stayed out of serious foul trouble, as Niang was the only player with more than one foul, and came off the bench under cautious fire, finally getting his first two points of the game and not turning over the ball.
Oklahoma State's key to the great first half was Leyton Hammonds, who scored 12 of the teams 24 points. Only one other player, Chris Olivier, had more than 2 points.
The first and second halves had polar opposite starts. Niang drove down low for a quick two points the first seconds of the half, while Morris drove down the next possession and banked one home. Thomas continued the hot half, hitting a three to give the Cyclones 29 points just three minutes into the half. But the Cowboys kept pounding down low and taking advantage of the McKay-less Cyclones. After back to back turnovers and a missed jumper by Niang, the Cyclones finally took the lead after Niang found Thomas on a cut for an easy layup. The same combo found each other minutes later, this time Thomas hitting one from deep outside, and the Cyclones took a 34-29 lead.
Both teams went on a roll, going back and forth on points, until Burton was isolated on the post and made a nice spin move to give the Cyclones a 7 point, 40-33 lead. Niang then carried the ball up, apparently unnoticed by the Cowboys, and hit a wide open three to give ISU a 10 point lead. After Jeffrey Carroll made a layup to cut the Cowboy deficit down to single digits, Niang found Morris in the corner for his second three of the game, and the Cyclones had an 11 point lead with 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Fatigue started setting in for the Cyclones, who ended up giving the Cowboys 11 straight points off of second chances, as lackluster rebounding struck the team again. As Morris attempted to go coast to coast to give the Cyclones a boost, he was blocked but the ball bounced right to Georges Niang, who had taken over in the second half, and gave the Cyclones a 5 point lead. Jeffrey Carroll got hot, hitting his second three in as many attempts, and as quickly as the Cyclones were able to build an 11 point lead, they had given it up and led by just 2.
Niang continued his domination after grabbing a board after a missed free throw by Burton and was found a little later by Morris down low, who made an easy layup and the Cyclones were back up by 5 until Oklahoma States Joe Burton made a shot while getting fouled by Niang. After making his free throw, it was once again a 2 point game with 4 minutes remaining.
After a costly Cyclone turnover, Shine made a huge three pointer for Oklahoma State to give the Cowboys a one point lead. But the lead didn't last long, as Morris caught the OSU defense off guard and made a quick layup to put the Cyclones back on top. After Shine missed his next three point attempt, Morris killed the clock, then went iso where he drilled a shot from the top of the key, putting the Cyclones up three until Carroll made another three for the Cowboys to tie it up.
Morris found Niang on the other end of the court for two more points. The Cowboys opted to pound it inside their next offensive possession and keyed in on Niang, who committed his fourth foul hacking Mitchell Solomon with 51 seconds remaining. Solomon made one out of two free throws, and the Cyclones kept the lead by just one point.
With the option of killing the clock and giving the Cowboys 20 seconds to tie it up or put up a quick shot for the opportunity to have the last shot, it appeared Morris opted to kill the clock until Niang found an opening down low for an easy two to give the Cyclones a three point lead with 34 seconds remaining.
Deonte Burton made a huge steal on Oklahoma State's offensive possession, and the team was able to kill over 10 seconds of clock as the Cowboys had to continue fouling before Iowa State was in the bonus. Morris hit both free throws to put the Cyclones up 5, and the Cowboys weren't able to score after a missed three point attempt by Hammond. Niang grabbed the board and dribbled over to Coach Prohm, giving him a big hug as the clock expired as the Cyclones defeated the Cowboys, 64-59.
The victory speaks volumes for the Cyclone defense, who kept the team in the game without the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Make no mistake, if the Cyclones want to be playing in Houston this postseason, they need Jameel McKay. But as Fran Fraschilla said best, they need team-first, Iowa State-first Jameel McKay, not me-first Jameel McKay.
Niang ended the game with 18 points and 9 rebounds, all 9 boards and 16 of those points coming in the second half while turning the ball over just once. Morris had 16 points and 8 assists, playing a major role in the Clones comeback. Thomas scored 16,12 of which came from behind the arc, while Burton put up 11 points and had 4 steals and provided the "toughness" spark that the Iowa State has needed.
Iowa State didn't allow a single point to Hammonds in the second half, but it was Jeffrey Carroll, who put up 18 points and 7 rebounds to keep the Cowboys in the game.
The road trip continues for the Cyclones, as Iowa State takes on Texas Tech Wednesday, February 10th at 8:00 on ESPN U.