Iowa State’s “Comeback Kids” dug deep holes, then summited glorious peaks against Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas last weekend in Kansas City.
Thursday, they couldn’t get past NCAA Tournament base camp against upstart UAB.
The 14th-seeded Blazers bullied the third-seeded Cyclones by grabbing 19 offensive rebounds and hit a rare 3-pointer late to help record a bracket-busting 60-59 triumph in a second-round South Regional thrilled at Louisville, Ky.
“They made the plays,” ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said on the Cyclone Radio Network after his team’s first one-and-done tournament appearance during his five-year tenure. “Unfortunately, we didn’t. This is as hard a one as I’ve been a part of.”
ISU (25-9) — which won the Big 12 Tournament by surmounting double-digit deficits each game — saw a chance to take a 59-58 lead with 12.1 second left negated when Georges Niang’s baseline shot was blocked.
UAB (20-15) converted a pair of free throws to form the winning margin and the Cyclones’ Naz Long missed a 3-pointer with three seconds left.
A Monté Morris tip-in made the score 60-59, but only 0.4 seconds remained.
The Blazers heaved the subsequent inbounds pass across midcourt and the buzzer blared, signaling the finish of ISU’s season.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said reserve guard Matt Thomas, who sparked his team with 11 points. “I’m in shock right now.”
Morris led ISU with 15 points, Jameel McKay added 10 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots. Niang, who battled foul trouble, scored 11.
The Cyclones endured an abrupt end to a magic-filled season after entering the tournament with high hopes for a deep run.
After all, they advanced to the Sweet 16 last season, even as Niang broke his foot after the first win over North Carolina Central.
So a repeat run at least to the end of the second weekend was expected, but the Blazers’ length and toughness — coupled with missing shots that typically fall — relegated ISU to the role of early upset victim.
The “madness” bit hard and the Cyclones saw Dustin Hogue, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Daniel Edozie’s college careers come to an end.
“I’m sad for them,” Thomas said. “This is the last thing I thought would happen.”
Early on, the “Comeback Kids” tried to go off-script. Long swished his first 3-point try, then the Cyclones stole, shot and twisted its way to a 10-2 lead.
But UAB recovered quickly on both ends. The Blazers — who collected nine of their offensive boards before the break — forced nine first-half turnovers and took a 31-28 lead into halftime.
“Our big key coming into this one was to take care of the glass and that was the difference,” said Hoiberg, whose team was outrebounded 52-37 and 19-9 on the offensive end. “They outrebounded us handily. We talked about that all week as being the key. If we could control the glass, if we could win that battle, that we would win the game, and that certainly would have been the case.”
Robert Brown — who hit all three of UAB’s 3-pointers in 17 total attempts — scored a game-high 21 points, including the triple that turned a 55-53 ISU edge into a one-point lead for his team with 52 seconds left.
Morris drove and delivered with 41 seconds left to briefly restore a one-point Cyclone advantage, but it wasn’t enough as this comeback — though not as deep as the other recent ones — fell short.
“To have, I thought, some momentum going into this one with finding a way to win three — to end the season this way is extremely difficult,” Hoiberg said. “One thing I told the guys in the locker room is one thing to be extremely proud of is winning back-to-back Big 12 championship. That’s never happened in school history, but for the season to end this way, it really hurts.”