A role player turned big-time performer allowed ISU to score an on-paper upset Saturday night.
Reserve guard/forward Abdel Nader piled up 19 points in the clutch and all over the floor against the No. 14 Mountaineers as the 17th-ranked Cyclones survived key foul outs (Monte Morris, Georges Niang) and won in a slugfest, 74-72, on national television.
“Abdel was unbelievable tonight, his best game,” ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said on the Cyclone Radio Network postgame show. “He was huge.”
Nader drained all six of his free throws and grabbed a team high-tying seven rebounds off the bench.
“When I was a kid I was always told just aim at the back of the rim,” said Nader, who scored exactly one-third of the points he’d totaled in the previous 13 games. “So that’s what I zoned in on.”
Speaking of zone, ISU — typically a man-to-man team — even deployed some on the defensive end.
Speaking of defense, there was apparently too much of it, as the two teams combined for 50 fouls.
“I’m proud of the way they just found a way with some terrible foul trouble,” Hoiberg said.
Nader shot 6 of 11 from the field and drilled a key 3-pointer as ISU avenged a 25-point loss in Morgantown last season.
Niang — a.k.a. the “bum of the game,” per the Mountaineers’ Maniacs in a pre-game publication, added 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting.
Morris scored nine points and contributed six assists to one turnover, while Dustin Hogue notched 11 and 5 in the win.
"They try to rattle you, especially in this building, and I don’t think that ever happened with Monte," Hoiberg said. "He’s so poised."
Jameel McKay added five blocked shots off the bench, which outscored West Virginia’s 29-19.
“Coach prepares us for those types of situations (in practice) where guys are going out, or guys are going out with injuries or foul trouble — trying to play the game like that,” Morris said.
Headliner or not, Nader simply stole the show for the visitors, matching an ISU career high in points as the Cyclones joined 10-time defending Big 12 champ Kansas as the only unbeaten teams remaining in terms of league win-loss record.
“We knew coming into tonight it was going to be a hard-fought game,” Nader said.
That fight’s over. An upset win’s secure. Now on to Baylor.
"I told our guys I’m not satisfied unless we get this one on Wednesday (in Waco)," Hoiberg said. "A great win, to come down here and pull this off in this building, but Wednesday’s another great opportunity for us."