Iowa State may have pulled off its biggest-ever comeback in regulation Monday against Oklahoma, but in at least one area, always-rocking Hilton Coliseum proved to be merely second best.
And that’s noise, relative to its potential.
“Once before,” Cyclone forward Dustin Hogue said when asked if the No. 17 Cyclones’ rapid climb from 21 points down to beat the No. 15 Sooners produced the most floor-rattling atmosphere he’d experienced there. “To the point where my shoelaces were shaking.”
ISU (21-8, 11-6) won’t be able to rely on one of the best home environments in the country to resuscitate flagging fortunes anymore.
The possibly glorious and certainly perilous journey to the end of the 2014-15 season hits the road one last time Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at TCU (17-13, 4-13), before neutral floors pave the way to — and maybe through — the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a big one,” Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg said of the regular season finale. “We want to finish strong.”
Forth Worth is situated nearly 800 miles from Ames, but the temporary gym in which the Horned Frogs play is worlds apart from nationally-renowned Hilton.
When the Cyclones walk in to Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center — a high school venue TCU plays in because its arena is being renovated — they’ll eventually see no more than 5,000 fans in the stands.
That’s the small, but modern gym’s capacity, give or take.Again, no Hilton, but just as suitable a launching pad for ISU’s remaining goals, which include cementing at least a share of second place in the Big 12 standings with a win.
“A gym’s a gym,” said the Cyclones’ Georges Niang, who scored 20 of his team-high 23 points in the second half Monday. “So I really don’t think it’s that much of a difference.”
Not when ISU’s defending as sternly as it did down the stretch against Oklahoma. The Sooners shot 32 percent in the second half and scored just four points in more than eight minutes that included the Cyclones’ dominant and history-making 22-0 run.
“It has a direct correlation on your offense,” Hoiberg said. “Good defense, it gives you energy to play offense. When you’re not getting stops and when teams are getting easy baskets on you, it just kind of sucks the life out of you.”
Somehow, some of that still exists for the Horned Frogs, who have won three of their last six after beginning Big 12 play with 10 losses in 11 games.
Kyan Anderson (13.5 points, 4.3 assists) keys TCU’s deliberate but aggressive offense, along with 6-5 guard Trey Zeigler, who presents a minor mismatch problem.
But it’s defense and offensive rebounding that power the Horned Frogs, who rank third in conference play in turnover margin (plus-1.35 per game) and offensive board work (13.1 per game).
“They’re a really good team,” Niang said. “They’re just in a tough conference.”
One that ISU has navigated with solid success, even though a win Saturday only ensures a second-place finish. The Cyclones could go 12-6 in league play for the second time in four years — and translate late-season momentum into memorable runs in Kansas City and elsewhere.
But the “magic?” It’s their job to conjure and sustain all of that from here on out.
“We definitely want to go in with a win rather than a loss,” Niang said. “Just feeling good about yourselves going into the Big 12 Tournament, that’s definitely huge for us.”
A shrinking purplish blob was quite noticeable under NCAA record-setting point guard Monté Morris’s eye during Thursday interviews. What was left of a shiner caused by an inadvertent eye poke from Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins is just the latest physical blow the best-ever single-season performer in assist-to-turnover ratio has absorbed in the past two games.
At Kansas State, Morris took a shot to the head on a drive, then was upended by Wildcats big man Thomas Gipson. He thought his tailbone would be much more sore than it was after that spill, but said his neck was the biggest concern.
“I had a few knots in my neck,” said Morris, who scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half against the Sooners.
The 6-2, 170-pound sophomore expects more knots, scrapes, bumps and bruises to form as postseason play nears, then starts.
“It’s getting down to crunch time, that’s why,” Morris said.
Sixth man Bryce Dejean-Jones struggled Monday against Oklahoma, so didn’t play in the second half as the Cyclones forged a furious rally. What was it like to watch? “I was just encouraging them to keep it going,” said Dejean-Jones, ISU’s second leading scorer at 11.3 points per game. “This is what we’re supposed to do. Looking out there and seeing my teammates playing hard and getting the win is a great thing.”
KENPOM.COM SAYS …
ISU has a 55 percent chance of winning at TCU, but fasten your seat belts. Projected score: 74-73.