The collapse came at the top of the key.
Cincinnati defenders converged to stop Iowa State star Georges Niang as he initiated a move.
Niang then spun off a curve ball.
The 6-8 senior All-American from Methuen, Mass., skipped a pass to Abdel Nader in the corner, who gathered the ball, rose up and turned it into a game-winning swish.
Nader was 0-for-4 from 3-point range at the time, but barely brushed the nylon when it counted most.
“You’ve really got to trust each other,” Niang said on the Cyclone Radio Network postgame show. “It really shows tonight.”
Yes, three nights after a head-shaking 81-79 loss to solid Northern Iowa, the No. 11 Cyclones rebounded robustly by clipping No. 22 Cincinnati (ahem) 81-79 Tuesday at the Fifth Third Center.
The Bearcats (10-3) lost at home for just the sixth time in their last 45 games.
ISU (10-1) persevered behind Niang’s 24 points and 10 rebounds, point guard Monté Morris’ 16 points and seven assists and Nader’s mammoth final splash.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” ISU coach Steve Prohm said. “This was our first test, really, as a group.”
Niang’s heroics fueled the Cyclones down the stretch. His 3-pointer with 1:21 left tied the score, 78-78.
“Oof,” said Niang, who scored 24 points while grabbing 10 rebounds. That was a great game. I’m so happy to be on the winning end of it.”
The Bearcats never led until a Kevin Johnson jumper put them up 71-70 with 4:26 left.
ISU — which led by as many as 13 points — eventually fell behind 78-74 before a Jameel McKay rebound and free throw make preceded Niang’s game-tying 3-pointer.
“I just thought our defensive focus the first 20 minutes really put us in a position to win this game,” Prohm said.
The Cyclones stormed out of the gate, galloping to a 14-2 lead capped by Niang’s 3-point play with 16:28 remaining in the first half.
Defense keyed ISU’s strong start. The Cyclones forced turnovers on three of Cincinnati’s first four possessions — and scored points off each of those miscues.
Niang and Morris set the tone offensively, combining for 25 points (Niang had 14) before the break. The duo hit a combined 11 of 16 shots as the Cyclones built a 45-38 halftime lead.
Deonte Burton provided an early spark off the bench, scoring eight points, including a 3-pointer, while being whistled for three fouls.
ISU led by as many as 12 points in the first half and crafted an edge of 10-0 in fast break points.
The Bearcats stayed reasonably close by pounding the offensive glass. They grabbed 10 in the first half alone, which gave them a 16-12 advantage in second-chance points.
That trend continued in the second half, but Cincinnati couldn’t fashion it into a closing charge.
Burton finished with a career-high 12 points.
Matt Thomas added 13 point and a slew of effort plays.
“This win is just so huge for us mentally and moving forward,” Niang said.