Matt Thomas said earlier this week he’s been struggling with the concept of shooting without a conscience.
The Iowa State sophomore rose up with confidence early and often in Saturday’s 85-77 win at Texas, scoring a career-high 17 points on 4 of 6 shooting from beyond the arc.
His torrid touch fanned the flames for the No. 14 Cyclones’ second straight road win — a feat they hadn’t accomplished in Big 12 play since 2006.
“Right now we’re probably playing some of our best basketball of the season,” Thomas said on the Cyclone Radio Network postgame show. “In the media, no one really believed we could win on the road. … We just really had to prove ourselves in these two games. Oklahoma State (a 70-65 ISU win Wednesday at Stillwater) and Texas was a big opportunity and we definitely made the most of it. We’ve just got to enjoy it right now and get ready for Baylor on Wednesday.”
The Cyclones (20-6, 10-4) combined to shoot 12 of 21 from 3-point range and beat the Longhorns (17-10, 6-8) at Austin for the first time since 2005.
Georges Niang matched Thomas with 17 points and Bryce Dejean-Jones added 16 as ISU notched at least 20 wins for the fourth season in a row — a program record.
“Everything’s staying positive right now,” Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said. “That’s a great sign.”
ISU started fast Saturday, bolting to a 6-0 lead. Texas responded, eventually pulling ahead 31-27, but the Cyclones hit back, finishing the first half with an 8-0 run to lead 35-31 at the break.
ISU forced 12 first-half turnovers and came alive on both ends of the floor behind timely Thomas 3s.
Thomas hit his first from distance — a 23-footer — less than seven minutes into the game to put his team up 13-10.
He followed that with a baseline drive and short jumper, then drilled a clutch 3 after Monté Morris drove deep on transition and kicked it out to the wing.
That made the score 18-12 with 11:33 left — and signified that Thomas would be a factor off the bench all day for the second straight game.
“It felt great,” Thomas said. “The first one went down. Monté found me in transition for a wide open look. Byrce hit me in the second half. They were really collapsing on the drive and I was just able to knock some down. Looking forward to continuing this success.”
The Cyclones stretched the lead to double digits (64-53) on Naz Long’s 3-pointer with 5:56 left. Less than two minutes later, the Longhorns gave up fouls to put ISU into the bonus. The Cyclones responded by hitting 18 of 24 from the stripe in the final 3:24 to preserve the win.
“The thing I told our guys on was just how excited I was to go out and see what we’re made of, taking it on the road and hopefully giving ourselves a chance," Hoiberg said of his approach to this big week. "And that’s what we did. We gave ourselves a chance at Okie state and outscored them 9-nothing the last couple minutes and then tonight they made it into a free-throw shooting contest with about three to go — I think we shot 24 under three minutes and made just enough of them and got a few stops down there at the end.”
Long added 12 points, Dustin Hogue dropped in 11 and Jameel McKay had nine rebounds and three blocked shots.
Niang and Long combined to go 9-for-10 from the line down the stretch.
And Niang singled out McKay — who misses all four of his field goal attempts — as an exemplar of the type of team the Cyclones have become.
“He’s all over the place,” said Niang, who noted ISU is fully engaged in togetherness mode. “He didn’t pout. He didn’t get down. He got out there and made it happen. That’s what real teams do. I think we’re really starting to realize that and I’m just really excited. I couldn’t tell you how excited I am.
He could, however, express his reaction in seeing Thomas explode for a conscience-free career high.
“Matty Ice, Iceman Matt Thomas really stepped up and really brought us home,” Niang said. “He played a great game and I couldn’t be more excited for the kid because he works his tail off. To have this moment, I’m so happy for him.”