Welcome to life as a Cyclone. Iowa State’s 97-89 overtime loss to Kansas was a perfect indoctrination into the hopeful joy and lingering pain that results from wearing the Cardinal and Gold. Unfortunately the latest chapter in Cyclone Nation rug pulling was more agonizing than most of the previous episodes.
Iowa State fans are a cautiously optimistic bunch. They entered the Big 12 opener against Kansas with the realistic expectation of not having enough horses to run with the KU thoroughbreds in their barn. Few, if any, had a cursory thought that the Cyclones could end the Jayhawks’ 30 game home winning streak. After all KU hadn’t lost a conference home opener since 1983, when Hall & Oates, “Maneater” topped the charts. Iowa State was expected to be another guest who added to the Phog’s unfathomable tally.
The men on the floor with Iowa State on their chest had other plans.
With 21 seconds on the clock, the fellas from Ames held a 77-74 lead and had possession of the ball. I had this Twitter post all lined up to post as the game ended: “As Jamaal Tinsley once said, JUST ANOTHER GYM.” I should have known better.
The final ticks of regulation played out like a recurring Cyclone nightmare. Korie Lucious game clinching free throw rolled off the rim like Jamaal Tinsley’s layup against Hampton. Kansas had life. A room service layup cut the Cyclone advantage to one. Here we go again.
Lucious returned to the stripe and converted two massive free throws with place-kicker pressure to put Iowa State back up three—hope was restored if only for a moment. That’s the thing about Iowa State, they always give themselves one final gasp of auspicious air before the balloon explodes.
The next sequence plays out in panicked slow motion. KU pushes the ball, Babb gets caught up in a back-pick, Tyrus McGee tries to challenge, Kansas’ McLemore rises and so does the lump in the throat of Cyclone Nation. We’ve felt this before, the same sickness that struck during the lob from Mateen Cleaves to Morris Peterson in the Elite Eight. McLemore’s hoisted three floats helplessly like Cameron Dollar’s last ditch attempt over Kelvin Cato in the 1997 Sweet Sixteen.
The improbable seems inevitable. Glass, net, overtime.
The extra five minutes were a formality, the damage had been done.
There is a finality about college basketball that makes it such a remarkable game. Despite having KU on the ropes and executing a brilliant game-plan, the standings and computers still see it as a loss. The black and white nature is tough to accept in these situations, but ultimately creates the intrigue in athletics that is unlike any area in life.
Loss aside, this game created a road map for Iowa State. We have been waiting all season for this collection of Cyclones to figure out who they wanted to be and wondered out loud if they are good enough to compete for greatness. They proved what their architect in Fred Hoiberg has said all along; despite the doubters, this group can play with anyone.
It started with a superb game-plan from Hoiberg. Giving Niang the start was the first chess move of many; Hoiberg and crew had the excellent KU staff scrambling the rest of the way to adjust. Iowa State was getting shoot-a-round open looks against one of the best defenses in college basketball.
Niang was excellent with his old man YMCA game, Lucious was a steady presence at the point, Clyburn was picking spots to attack and not forcing things, Ejim was unbelievable on the glass and with effort plays and Babb was capitalizing on his open looks. Tyrus McGee was in full gunslinger mode and even channeled Kantrail Horton of Cyclones past with his 27 foot bomb late in the 2nd half.
The pieces were all there. This is a team that we were all hoping to see. They can do damage and legitimately compete for second in the conference.
Confidence is a funny thing. The Cyclones went toe to toe with a heavyweight and got knocked down before the bell with a concealed hook. Right now it stings like heck; Hoiberg and company have to be pestering themselves with second guesses and what-if’s. Yet, to reach great heights one has to risk an equal fall.
An all too familiar loss may be the end result on this January night, but the fortitude this club gained can be carried all the way to March.
The ability is evident, but for the good of all, finish them off next time when the chance presents. Our stomachs have had enough.