AMES — Bill Fennelly stood up from his spot on the Iowa State bench and raised three fingers.
The Cyclones (5-3) had the basketball 90 feet from their hoop with one second to play in the third quarter after a turnover by Iowa’s Ally Disterhoft. Senior guard Kidd Blaskowsky took the ball out of bounds in front of the student section at Hilton Coliseum.
She wound up and launched the pass downcourt. It went just over the outstretch arms of Iowa center Chase Coley and into the hands of Iowa State freshman Meredith Burkhall. She quickly turned and put the ball into the basket as time expired in the third quarter.
Blaskowsky stood on the other end of the floor with her arms raised above her head. Iowa State was headed to the fourth quarter down just eight points.
“It’s the last thing we do every shoot around. We call it the three-second play,” Fennelly said. “Kidd’s got as good an arm as any quarterback or any baseball player I’ve ever seen. We run it the last thing and it worked perfectly. The throw was great. The catch was great. (Meredith) was so open I thought she was going to panic a little bit. But it was a big play.”
The long pass and basket set the stage for an epic, back and forth final quarter which concluded in a 69-66 win for the Cyclones over No. 23 Iowa (8-2).
The Cyclones scored the first basket of the final period when freshman Bridget Carleton, who was playing in her first game in two weeks, knocked down a 3-pointer to bring Iowa State within five. Sophomore guard Jadda Buckley came off a screen to knock down a jumper.
Senior Seanna Johnson put in a pair of free throws. Iowa’s Ally Disterhoft split a pair at the line to push the Hawkeyes’ lead back to two.
The crowd roared with each Iowa State basket. They nearly blew the roof off the place with every defensive stop.
The next possession, Buckley found Johnson on the baseline. She put the ball through the net. The score was tied at 55.
“I had asked all the former players to send emails, text messages about playing in this game. I read them to the kids all week. Before practice, after practice, during practice,” Fennelly said. “I told them at the start of the fourth quarter, ‘If you play at Iowa State you’ll be evaluated by how you conduct yourself and how hard you play. People will forget if you win or lose. They’re not going to forget how you conduct yourself and wear the jersey and that’s all we talked about. They were ready to go.”
Carleton knocked down a jumper on Iowa State’s next possession to give the Cyclones their first lead since the 2:58 mark of the second quarter. It capped an 11-1 Iowa State run to start the fourth.
The two teams traded baskets for almost a minute before Carleton knocked down another jumper to put Iowa State up 62-61 with 3:14 left. Then back-to-back baskets by Johnson pushed the lead to five with 1:17 to play.
Johnson finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Her seventh double-double of the season, and the 20th of her career.
She scored 11 of her 22 points during the final 10 minutes.
“I just wanted to win. I know I’m not from Iowa but this game has tremendously helped me grow,” Johnson said. “Winning this game is a milestone for all of us. I know we didn’t want to lose, so whatever I have to take for us to win I will do it. If that’s me making shots or getting rebounds, I’ll do it just to help my teammates.”
The Hawkeyes weren’t done yet as they were able to pull back within two with seven seconds to play. Disterhoft was headed to the line to shoot a pair of free throws.
She’d already scored 25 points on the night. If she could get two more, she’d put her team in position to force overtime.
The first one was good.
With their team leading by one point and Iowa’s best player at the line, the crowd came alive.
“Our kids, they were tired. There was a couple times they had a hard time getting to the huddle,” Fennelly said. “But when you have that kind of crowd, the advantage we have here is incredible. It was an honor to be at the game last night, and feel what was going on last night, and to me it felt like the exact same thing. I just had a hell of a lot better seat to watch it than I did last night.”
The crowd did their job. Disterhoft’s second free throw rolled off the rim.
This gave Johnson the opportunity to grab her 10th rebound. It gave her the opportunity to seal the win, so she did.
Both her free throws went through the net to put the Cyclones up three with five seconds left.
Disterhoft’s last second shot from behind the arc missed and pandemonium ensued.
Hilton Magic had struck again.
“Before the game we were like, ‘Wow, we have one of the biggest student sections we’ve ever had.’ That I think helped us down the stretch,” Johnson said. “They got us to get the W. The Hilton Magic came alive at the end.”