LAWRENCE, Kan. — As the clock ticked down on Iowa State’s 89-76 loss Monday at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, students began to unfurl their 12-row long flag.
It reads, of course, “Fear the Phog.”
But on Big Monday, the No. 11 Cyclones didn’t shudder with fright in the venerable building where the eighth-ranked Jayhawks improved to 186-9 under coach Bill Self.
ISU (16-5, 6-3) instead shook its collective head at an opportunity lost — a chance to plant a flag of their own in the fertile Big 12 landscape that’s so often, so painfully often, framed in bright tones of red and blue.
A prime time opportunity to forge a tie atop the standings with the 10-time defending regular season champion Jayhawks (19-3, 8-1) thus fell to the wayside, done in by ill-timed turnovers, too-cold shooting and a salvo of 3-pointers from the home team.
It happens. Kansas owns a fearsome record of 128-3 in its last 131 games at “the Phog.”
Good teams — great, even — almost always fail to overcome the Jayhawks on their home turf when they’re dishing, drilling and dunking like they were Monday night.
Great teams coupled with nearly perfect execution? That’s how you win at Allen Fieldhouse, and ISU had too many turnovers (14) and allowed too many open looks (Kansas shot 51 percent, including 48 percent from 3-point range) to deftly handle the execution element of that thorny equation.
“I think just some of us just making mental mistakes,” Cyclone star forward Georges Niang said of the turnovers, nine of which came in the first half. “You can’t really have that. This is a tough environment and you have to limit those mental mistakes. I don’t think we did that.”
So ISU will try to chip away at the Jayhawks’ conference lead in the second half of the season.
Of note: Kansas has yet to play second-place and No. 15 West Virginia (18-3, 6-2), which takes on dangerous No. 21 Oklahoma (14-7, 5-4) tonight at Norman. The Jayhawks and Cyclones both have five road games left, but ISU already secured a two-point win against the Mountaineers on the road.
“I think we put ourselves in a favorable position, but it’s way too premature to even be thinking about (another regular season conference title),” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We’ve got five road games left and if we don’t play well we’ll go 0-5. That’s how I look at it.”
The Cyclones look at Monday’s loss as a bump, not a boulder, when it comes to the planned trajectory for their season.
“We’re going to patch it up and we’re going to get right back at it,” ISU’s top 3-point threat Naz Long said. “The season’s not over.”
“The season’s not over,” said Niang, who scored a game-high 24 points Monday night. “I’ll just leave it at that.”
THE (SORT-OF) RIVALRY
Self made it clear that Kansas State remains his team’s chief rival. As for the Cyclones?
“I think us and Iowa State have developed a pretty nice rivalry,” said Self, whose team had lost two in a row to ISU. “And I think that we were focused to play up there (in an 86-81 loss last month) and they were just better than us. And I’m sure they were focused to play here and we were better tonight. But there’s something about your competitive juices that get flowing after you‘ve played someone and they’ve outperformed you. … It was just us getting a chance to play a team that whipped us. Our guys have a very deep respect for Iowa State.”
Bryce Dejean-Jones‘ first game at Allen Fieldhouse in five years started even worse than the last one. The Iowa State senior — who went 0-for-6 from the field as a USC freshman in a two-point, December, 2010 loss against Kansas — began Monday’s game 0-for-9 from the floor. He shot 4-for-4 from both the field and the line in the final 6:39, though, scoring 14 points in that span.
The Cyclones can exact revenge on Texas Tech in Saturday’s 1 p.m. rematch at Hilton Coliseum. The Red Raiders (11-11, 1-8) stunned ISU 78-73 on January 24 in Lubbock.