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Anyone calling what took place at Allen Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon a choke job, a lack of effort or any other number of negative terms should stop reading this blog right now.
Some people will only see that Iowa State had a one-point lead with just more than three minutes to play, but lost. That’s not a choke job in this arena where Bill Self’s teams have lost just nine times in his tenure.
Some people will see that Monte Morris had to play 40 minutes, and three other Cyclones played more than 30 minutes. Some of that is a lack of depth, but that wasn’t the problem here.
Some people will see the final score and say, “Just another disappointing loss for the Cyclones.”
This loss was far from disappointing. Iowa State went toe-to-toe with, arguably, the nation’s best team in the nation’s toughest arena. They were energetic, gutsy and, most of the time, efficient.
In the end, Kansas just did what’s made them the 12-time Big 12 champions. They never let down. They continued to defend when Iowa State went up by four. They continued to attack the rim and the offensive glass.
Once they took back the lead, they let the crowd that’s willed them to 42 consecutive home wins take over.
This game proved to me what Iowa State can be when they’re at their peak. They are getting close to reaching that peak.
Here are my five takeaways from Iowa State’s 85-78 loss to Kansas:
1. It’s hard to really understand what makes Allen Fieldhouse such a difficult place to play until you’ve been there. Sure, you can hear the crowd on TV, but until you’ve sat on one of those wooden bleachers and developed a headache from the deafening noise, you won’t understand.
The sound engulfs you when you’re sitting in the stands, let alone when on the court. The building starts to shake when Kansas starts on one of their patented runs.
For periods of the game Saturday, Iowa State was able to keep the crowd on their hands. The arena was equally as quiet as it had been loud at the start of the game.
It seemed like the Cyclones had finally taken the air out of “The Phog” with about four minutes left. That was until a Landen Lucas tip-in put the Jayhawks back up one, then a Devonte Graham layup pushed the lead to three, Perry Ellis scored to make the lead five. You could feel it all building.
It was like standing on the beach and watching a wave coming for the shore. Then Graham knocked down a 3-pointer in the corner, and the wave struck land.
The wave was the deafening noise that will nearly knock you off your feet.
I’ve been to close to 50 games in Hilton Coliseum and close to 100 at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. I’ve never heard anything like the roar when that 3-pointer went through the net. I don’t care what Jamal Tinsley said, that’s not just another gym.
2. Jameel McKay is back.
His 19 point, nine rebound performance Saturday afternoon might have been the most inspired basketball he’s played in his Iowa State career. He was getting position and not allowing himself to be boxed out on offense. He was active defensively blocking and altering shots.
He caught the ball when it was thrown to him, and took advantage of those chances. He ran the floor, and he barely complained to the officials.
A lot of people were criticizing McKay for his commitment (or lack thereof) to the team and the program a few weeks ago. I’m saying now that those concerns need to go out the window.
That dude is on a freaking mission.
3. In a way, it pains me that Georges Niang was never able to get a win at Allen Fieldhouse.
You could tell from the opening tip that Niang was going to do anything in his power to win this game. He wanted it — badly.
Iowa State was doing everything they could to isolate him on the block and he was taking advantage of most of those chances. That also shows how good this team can been when they let No. 31 carry them.
Most teams aren’t going to be able to slow Niang down like Kansas did. They were able to throw so many bodies and defenders at him that eventually someone was going to be able to limit him a little bit.
It’s time for these guys to let Niang put them on his back.
4. I don’t know what Steve Prohm can do to get Monte Morris some rest at this point, but he needs to find a way. Even if it’s just a minute or two, the guys needs to take a break at some point in the game.
If it means having Niang bring the ball down the floor, so be it. Morris looks like he’s worn down after all the minutes he’s played this season, especially during stretch runs, and I can’t blame him one bit.
He’s been a warrior. It’s time for Prohm to find a way let him take a break from the battle once in a while.
5. If you take only one thing from this blog, I want it to be this point. Iowa State is peaking, and they’re doing it at the exact right time.
Steve Prohm has been pushing buttons and pulling strings all season long. People have second, third, fourth and fifth guessed him. They’ve called out players for effort, execution and any other number of things.
But now, when it’s time to put up or shut up, the Cyclones are finding their groove. Niang is playing some of his best basketball. McKay is inspired and playing like the guy everyone expected before the season started.
Sure, Morris hasn’t played very well over the past few weeks. Sure, they still only go eight-deep, but those eight guys play with everything they’ve got most of the time they are on the floor.
They’ve improved defensively and they’ve maintained their offensive firepower. They’ve seemingly bought in to what Prohm has been telling them all season long.
The team I saw in Cardinal and Gold Saturday afternoon looked like one that is going to make some noise over the next few weeks. They looked like Final Four contenders.
I don’t care how rocky the climb up the mountain has been, the peak is close, and the view is beautiful.