STANZ: The magic is back

Dec 9, 2021; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes forward Kris Murray (24) watches as Iowa State Cyclones guard Izaiah Brockington (1) dunks the ball at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — “Thanks for bringing the magic back, George!”

I had just finished asking George Conditt a couple of extra questions after Iowa State’s 73-53 domination of arch-rival on Thursday. Hilton Coliseum was nearly empty then, but it had been packed full roughly an hour prior and the words came from the mouth of someone helping to clean up the arena.

Conditt was far from the star of the win, but I wanted to ask him about a conversation we’d had back in the summer. We had talked about the responsibility he felt to bring the magic back to Hilton Coliseum.

He told me about wanting to leave his jersey in a better place. He told me about his love of Iowa State growing up and how much it hurt to see Hilton Coliseum become a shell of what it once was during his first three years in Ames.

I wanted to find George Conditt because Thursday night in Ames was a lot of things, but there was one thing that stood above everything else.

It was the night the magic returned to Hilton Coliseum.

“It was spectacular,” Conditt told me. “Words can’t even describe, man, for real. Just seeing it back to where it needs to be… It’s just amazing, man. Coming out of the tunnel and seeing everyone, stands packed, not a seat available… It was just amazing, man. I look forward to having a great season.”

Any lingering questions about this team’s validity, and the odds they can have a great season moving forward from here, were erased on Thursday behind a stifling defensive effort against one of the nation’s best offensive teams.

Iowa State held Iowa to just 27 percent shooting from the field and 18.5 percent shooting from 3-point range. The Hawkeyes were held 37 points below their season average.

Iowa entered the game leading the nation in offensive turnover percentage. The Hawkeyes turned the ball over 12 times against Iowa State after turning it over just four times in a loss to Illinois earlier this week.

Nothing came easy for the Hawkeyes — and I mean, absolutely nothing. Only one player had a shooting percentage better than 50 percent and that was Filip Rebaraca, who finished 2-of-3 from the field.

The other four Iowa starters were held to 10-of-39 shooting.

Iowa State suffocated one of the best offensive teams in America and left the scoreboard looking exactly like the blowout this game was.

“Just making them uncomfortable,” Iowa State freshman point guard Tyrese Hunter said. “That was our biggest thing. We knew our defense was going to turn into offense. We watched the film, whatever, but just being us, too. That’s a big key. As you can see every game, we lock in on defense. That’s a pride that we take into each and every day. That’s something we emphasize in practice every day.”

Any questions about this team having a go-to player were erased, too.

That’s because Izaiah Brockington scored 29 points on 11-of-14 shooting, including starting the game 9-of-9 from the field, and grabbed 10 rebounds while holding the nation’s leading scorer, Iowa’s Keegan Murray, to just four points on 4-of-17 shooting.

Murray started the game 0-of-10. He didn’t score his first basket until there was 12:41 left in the second half and Iowa State had already built a 21-point lead.

That’s a credit to Brockington. He’s become this team’s Melvin Ejim. He’s their leader every day in practice with his energy and tenacity. He’s their leader every time they step on the floor to play a game and he doesn’t need to be putting the ball in the basket to impose his will.

We saw on Thursday how much it helps when those shots are falling, though.

“It was quite heroic when you think about it,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “He set the tone defensively, making it really hard on one of the better offensive players in the country to this point. On the other side, he makes his first nine field goals, ends up with 29 and 10, not really sure what else he could do. You’re happy for a young man like that because when he came into this program, he talked about what he was about and what impact he wanted to bring. He’s done all that and more. It’s the byproduct of how he works, his character, his integrity, his toughness, his will. Love the confidence he’s playing with. Love the confidence his teammates have to keep going to him. Izaiah Brockington’s a pretty amazing young man and we saw that tonight.”

It had been a long time since Iowa State was able to beat Iowa. Conditt, who finished this game with four points and three rebounds, was a high school senior. Hunter (11 points, eight rebounds and six assists) was a high school freshman.

The intensity of the rivalry was on full display in the early minutes with Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon giving his best Georges Niang impression by blowing a kiss to the Iowa State student section after a made 3-pointer.

From there, the rivalry’s intensity took a backseat to Iowa State’s intensity. It is unrelenting for 40 minutes every single time this team steps on the floor. There were guys diving on the floor after loose balls and chasing the basketball into the stands when the Cyclones were up by 20-plus points.

It had been a long time since Iowa State beat Iowa, but it had been even longer since we’ve seen an Iowa State team play with the kind of effort this team does on a nightly basis.

“This is everything every Iowa kid growing up wants to play in,” Bohannon said postgame. “They want to win these games. I’ve been fortunate, this is my sixth one now. I’ve been fortunate to play in these types of environments. Iowa State has one of the best fan bases in the country. They’re rowdy and they’re up into you. Iowa State has a phenomenal team this year. I’ve got to give them a lot of credit. I’ve got the utmost respect for their head coach. I’ve known him since I was in high school, and also AJ Green’s dad that came from UNI, coached my brother, I have nothing but great things to say about that coaching staff and the players they’ve assembled this year. Shows a lot about how he was able to take that team that two games they won last year to the team they are now.”

The team they are now is going to give their opponents their best shot every single time they step on the floor. You can’t always control whether or not the ball will be going into the basket, but you can control how hard you play.

This team only knows how to play one way. That’s with suffocating defensive pressure, unselfish offense and intensity comparable to a pack of wolves.

They only have one goal in mind when they step on the floor. This group simply just wants to win — and they don’t care what it takes to achieve their goal.

“I really wanted to beat them,” Brockington said.

Everybody in the building could tell that was true, and, accordingly, the fanbase did its part. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a Hilton Coliseum crowd as consistently loud as this one — and I’ve been lucky to be in this building for some pretty special games that will forever live in Cyclone lore.

This one will live there, too, because it was the night we all knew George Conditt and his teammates had accomplished a goal he and I talked about in the summer.

“It was amazing, man,” Conditt said. “It felt like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders.”

The weight of it all probably got a lot easier for Conditt to carry once he had a group of teammates dead set on achieving the same thing. That weight being easier to carry doesn’t mean it got lighter, but it got a lot easier to achieve faster than any of us could have imagined in our wildest dreams.

Thursday night with a dominant win over Iowa, they accomplished their goal. Hilton Coliseum was no longer a shell of itself and we can all echo the words I heard as I walked out of the nearly empty gym.

Thanks for bringing the magic back.

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.