Williams: Somehow Cyclones survive epic Cy-Hawk affair

AMES — There was no Lafester Rhodes type of performance. Iowa actually out-played the Cyclones throughout the majority of this one. It was a track meet. No, it was a NASCAR race (one with a lot of cautions) . It wasn’t what I would necessarily call a pretty one either.  

Iowa out-rebounded Iowa State 49-to-35. Iowa State missed 13 free throws. The Cyclones only made six 3-pointers. Oh, and that Cyclone defense that we all spent the last week bragging about was suspect at best. But somehow, Fred Hoiberg’s gritty group that trailed by five with 1:26 to play, came from behind yet again and beat a very good Iowa team by an 85-82 final.

“I honestly have no idea how we won that game,” said a relieved Fred Hoiberg. “I look at the box score and they crushed us on the glass. They beat us in transition. Those were the two biggest keys I felt that we had to have the upper hand. We didn’t.”

But as Iowa State has done four times this year (come back from double digit deficits), the Cyclones scraped, clawed and somehow found a way to win. 

“I think it shows our work ethic and the type of mentality that we have day in and day out,” Melvin Ejim said. “The grit that we bring every day that we play. It is a hard-nosed team. We scrap for everything. Even when we aren’t playing so well, we are able to find a way.” 

Credit Iowa State for its mental toughness. Make a mental note that Iowa missed some critical free throws down the stretch that certainly helped Iowa State’s cause. And last but not least, recognize and appreciate the most underrated home court advantage in all of college basketball. 

Down two points with 42 seconds to go in the game, Iowa sophomore Mike Gesell went to the free throw line to shoot two. That’s when this thing got “Magical.” 

“I have played in what I thought the loudest this arena has ever been with Oklahoma State and that rivaled it out there, when Gesell missed that first one,” Hoiberg said. “You could feel the vibrations in the building again.”

Gesell missed both shots, and his ears will be ringing all weekend long because of it.

“I give the credit of this game to our fans,” Hoiberg said. “There is no way that we win this game without them.”

It was a big win for a plethora of reasons. The first, obviously, is the 8-0 mark with wins over Michigan, at BYU and now, a University of Iowa program that was beyond impressive. 

*** CLICK HERE for video from the postgame press conference ***

Secondly, Iowa State beat a legitimate NCAA tournament team when frankly; the Cyclones didn’t even play that well (knowing very well that Iowa had a lot to do with that). DeAndre Kane and Matt Thomas combined to go 2-for-11 from the field. The 23-for-36 night from the charity stripe was less than ideal. Dustin Hogue, Niang and Kane all experienced their share of foul trouble while Naz Long was disqualified late in the game because of that very reason.  

But as they’ve down now four times this year, Iowa State somehow survived. The 8-0 start ties the second-best in school history (1940-41, 1941-42).

“It’s pretty darn exciting I guess,” Hoiberg said. “To find a way to come back four times now from double digit deficits, I told the guys in the locker room, ‘Let’s quit making a habit of that.”’ 

That was probably as hyped up of a basketball game as this team will experience all regular season long, too. Kansas and Oklahoma State coming to town will be a big deal, but the local media won’t swoon for those games like they did this one. When both high-major in-state programs are nationally ranked and playing each other, it is always going to be a colossal deal, and rightfully so. After all, that hadn’t happened before Friday since 1987.

Media, fans and players alike were begging for an epic Cy-Hawk classic. That is exactly what our state received. 

“I think the game lived up to the hype every little bit,” Georges Niang said. “It was a lot of fun playing in this and I think the rivalry is back. Both teams are great teams for the state of Iowa. But at the end of the day, we all know it’s a Cyclone State.”


*** Georges Niang’s 24 points were a career-high. 

“Georges is just a smart, smart player,” Ejim said. “He has super control over his body and knows how to create space. That’s one of the talents that he has. Any person, whether you are 7-foot or small, he can make space and he can get that shot off any time. If you take that away, he can step out and knock down a shot.”

Niang has now recorded back-to-back 20-point games and has scored in double figures six times this season.

*** Melvin Ejim dropped 22 and seven on the Hawks while becoming the fifth best rebounder in Iowa State history at 812. Ejim moved past Victory Alexander (810, 1988-91) in the victory. 

*** What can a guy say about Dustin Hogue? The junior had 12 points and 16 rebounds while recording his fourth double-double this season.  

“Dustin was an absolute warrior out there,” Hoiberg said. “I was happy to see him knock those free throws down at the end.” 

Hogue is now averaging 12.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game on the season.