Dec 1, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Nazareth Mitrou-Long (15) and guard Monte Morris (11) talk during the second half against the Cincinnati Bearcats at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Cincinnati won 55-54. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Twenty seconds left.
ISU’s ball, down one in overtime, at Hilton Coliseum — with a 37-game non-conference home winning streak hanging in the balance.
Fans rose to their feet once again and forced the decibel level through the rafters. We’ve seen this movie countless times before, right?
The Cyclones struggle, but find a way to pull one out in Hilton, especially with Naz Mitrou-Long slinging the potential game-winning shot.
It’s such a familiar, cheer-raising script that when it failed to meet expectations Thursday night and Cincinnati trudged off with a grinding 55-54 overtime win, the sellout crowd of 14,384 shuffled off in stunned, muffled near-silence.
They weren’t alone. ISU (5-2) let a four-point lead with 1:30 left in regulation evaporate and a three-point lead with 2:29 remaining in OT disappear. The second-straight loss left the Cyclones themselves struggling to make sense of it all several minutes after Mitrou-Long’s 25-foot potential game-winner didn’t come close and time expired.
“We were one or two stops away,” said point guard Monté Morris, who led the Cyclones with 15 points. “Rebounding was a major key down the stretch. We didn’t get the ones we were supposed to. Like I said, we’ve just got to go back to the drawing board. It ain’t the end of the world. We lost by one. We need to get better.”
This was the most lengthy answer the Big 12’s preseason player of the year uttered after the bruising, floor burn-filled setback.
Why couldn’t the offense get many good looks?
“I don’t know,” said Morris, who had two of ISU’s five total assists. “We’ve just got to watch film and see.”
What did he think of the offensive execution?
“I’m not sure,” Morris said. “We just didn’t make shots. Like I said, we’ve just got to get better and watch more film.”
Forgive him for being at a loss for words.
As good as the Cyclones were on defense Thursday — and they were magnificent, holding the Bearcats (6-1) to 35.5 percent shooting — they were the polar opposite on the other end.
ISU shot 36.7 percent, including 2-for-8 in overtime, and didn’t record an offensive rebound until Deonte Burton’s putback basket with 14:57 left in regular turned into a one-point lead.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, mauled the Cyclones on the offensive glass, grabbing 10 before Burton corralled his first. The Bearcats built a 12-0 edge in second-chance points to help prevent ISU from forging a lead larger than seven points.
“It just came down to boxing out,” said ISU sixth man Darrell Bowie, who scored 13 points while grabbing seven rebounds. “I don’t think size really mattered. They were just tougher than us.”
You can’t say that often at Hilton. But like Morris said, “it ain’t the end of the world.”
The Bearcats entered the game among the nation’s best in offensive rebounding — a number that will improve after this performance. They slow you down and try to crush you on the block. That’s their typical winning script and they played it to perfection on a night in which they’d shoot 3-for-21 from long distance.
“To win it when you go 3-for-21 from 3, on the road against a great team like that, and they still win the game?” said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, who also seemed stunned, but in a decidedly different way. “It says a lot about the character of our team.”
What went down — as awful as it was for ISU fans — said a lot about that for ISU, too.
Cincinnati led 25-24 at halftime and 10 of those 25 points came after Cyclone stops. At one point in the first half the Bearcats were shooting 22 percent — and trailed by only three points. So not only one or two more stops would have made the difference for ISU. One or two more shots could have, too.
Five assists on 22 field goals? That’s not Cyclone basketball. It’s not supposed to be, anyway. Not enough ball movement, or movement in general, led to long static stretches on the offensive end.
“Tough, tough loss,” ISU coach Steve Prohm said. “Disappointed for our players. I thought they really competed. Showed a lot of toughness, a lot of grit. I knew this game was going to be a possession game just the way Cincinnati plays. They were going to try to control the tempo. The biggest key is just we weren’t able to get enough good, quality shots on the offensive end. That’s something I’ve got to look at and do better with.”
Case in point: the final possession.
The Cyclones had 20 seconds to execute a winning play. Instead they ended up with a desperate hoist by Mitrou-Long (who failed to score) and an ensuing scrum for the board. Officials called a jump ball, but the buzzer blared. A review confirmed that time had expired — along with ISU’s 37-game non-conference run of success.
“We had opportunities,” Prohm said. “That was my one concern, just finding the niches, or the little holes in the zones to attack and then continue to get ball movement, not get frustrated. The thing I was proud of them (for) is we defended for 45 minutes. (Cincy) made one or two really tough plays down the stretch to stay in the game and then win the game.”