They don’t know how they do it. The Iowa State Cyclones just know they do it — declare an emergency, then rally and win.
Making their fifth consecutive rally from double digits, the Cyclones stunned top seed Kansas 70-66 to win the Big 12 tournament championship on Saturday. Their rally from a 40-23 deficit in the opening minute of the second half wrecked any chance Kansas had for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and christened the Cyclones as the team nobody wants to face.
“I feel like we’re built for this,” forward Georges Niang said.
Built for what? Forty minutes of stress?
“When our name gets called, we answer the bell,” Niang said. “I’m not going to say that’s who we are, but if that’s our emergency button and that’s what we have to do, then we’re going to do it.”
The bell rang a lot in the first half. From the time Kelly Oubre Jr.’s 3-pointer gave Kansas a 10-9 lead until Devonte’ Graham hit a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left in the first half, the Cyclones were outscored 30-14.
Kansas had a 37-23 halftime lead, and it went to 40-23 when Frank Mason III put in three free throws.
“We knew they were a comeback team,” Mason said. “The past few games, they have been coming back, and we discussed we wanted to keep the attack mode on and keep the lead and keep them from getting the easy baskets.”
The Cyclones had their own discussion.
“‘All right guys, what have you got left in the tank?’” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said he asked his team. “‘Let’s leave it out there, let’s go down swinging and fighting and whatever happens happens.’ Our guys did exactly that. We tried to talk to them about getting it to single digits, and then anything can happen.”
The trip to single digits was pretty quick. Jameel McKay dunked and made a layup, Niang hit a fallaway jumper, then another bucket, and then found McKay for an alley-oop dunk that finished a 10-0 run.
After free throws by Mason, Niang’s 3-pointer started another 7-0 run that cut it to 42-40.
Wayne Selden’s thunderous alley-oop stablized the game again for Kansas, and his 3-pointer brought the lead back to 51-47.
But Kansas was running out of highlights. Iowa State scored the next 10 points, leading 57-51 on a Bryce Dejean-Jones layup with 5:55 left that completed a 34-11 run.
Even though Kansas managed a 63-63 tie on Selden’s 3-point play, Iowa State took the lead back on Abdel Nader’s free throws with 48 seconds left and closed the game out expertly.
“I think there is parity in college basketball this year, outside of Kentucky,” Hoiberg said. “If we can get hot and keep the confidence going, that’s, I think, the biggest thing in a three-day run like this against three great teams. It breeds confidence in your players — they can battle through anything, no lead is insurmountable.”
Kansas is ready to think about the NCAAs, too.
“I like our team. I like our chances,” coach Bill Self said. “Who knows about the draw yet, but this isn’t the end of their season today. I told our guys that if you play, you might as well win. So there is no question that we didn’t compete to win and they just outplayed us.
“But the bottom line is, hey, by 6 o’clock tomorrow, nobody is going to be thinking about this game, and Iowa State won’t be thinking about it, either, by 6 o’clock tomorrow. It’s the quickest turn on an emotional game that we have all year long.”
Another comeback already.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760