Iowa State Cyclones guard Izaiah Brockington (1) dunks the ball over West Virginia Mountaineers forward Isaiah Cottrell (13) during the second half at Hilton Coliseum Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, in Ames, Iowa.
AMES — Every so often, life hands you a moment you will never forget.
Those are the moments when all you want to do is talk about what you just saw with someone else. You text your best friend or call your dad. You’ll speak to anyone if it means you can talk about what you just witnessed, what you just experienced.
These moments sometimes arrive when you’re least expecting them, like when Iowa State is trailing West Virginia 81-80 with 28 seconds on the clock, and everything is trending towards a Mountaineer victory in Hilton Coliseum.
Then, all of a sudden, Izaiah Brockington jumps a passing lane to steal the inbounds pass, hesitates for a moment, then rises to lay in a bucket for his 34th and 35th points of the night to hand the Cyclones an improbable lead with 22 seconds left.
Minutes later, after two WVU misses at the rim, a pair of Gabe Kalscheur free throws and a missed Mountaineer 3-pointer, you’re watching 12,810 fans dance to the Juicy Wiggle and celebrate one of the most incredible Iowa State wins in recent memory.
Iowa State 84, West Virginia 81.
How did this happen? What did I watch? Who can I talk about this with next? Can this be explained?
That’s Hilton Magic, baby. There is no other explanation needed.
“Our guys kicked it in when we needed to,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We told them to keep winning the next play. Stay the course. It would come back around. Would have liked for that to happen a little bit sooner, but fortunate that it did.”
Brockington etched his name into Iowa State lore forever on Wednesday night in Ames. We all knew he was great before, perhaps one of the best in a long list of great transfers, but in this game against the Mountaineers, he made his case as one of the best ever to wear the Cyclone uniform.
The Penn State transfer scored a career-high 35 points on 14-of-22 from the floor and 5-of-8 from behind the 3-point line. He also secured five rebounds, two steals and an assist.
I’ve been lucky to witness some fantastic individual performances on this building’s hallowed court. I’m not sure exactly where this one ranks off the top of my head, but there is little doubt it sits near the very top of the list.
When Iowa State entered the halftime locker room facing a 10-point deficit and what had been an abysmal officiating performance to that point, Brockington made a decision for everyone else associated with this contest.
Iowa State would not lose this game because Izaiah Brockington decided they would not.
He promptly poured in 25 points after the intermission, making 10 of the team’s 17 field goals in the second half, and making the play that will live forever in the minds of Iowa State fans, be dissected time after time, and always come up in any discussion of this building and program’s greatest single plays.
Nobody who saw “The Steal” in person will ever forget it. Many more who weren’t there to witness it live but saw it on TV will relive it, too. The poor folks who missed it need to find it immediately because this is one of those moments we’ll be talking about for a long, long time.
Iowa State did not lose the basketball game because Izaiah Brockington decided they were not going to.
“Man, just let him cook,” Kalscheur said when asked what was going through his mind during Brockington’s second-half run. “Let him go to work. I mean, he had an iso. He had the hot hand. Call him Mr. Middy for a reason, so let him go to work. That’s it.”
The moments before the moment were memorable in their own right.
How about Gabe Kalscheur knocking down his second 3-pointer of the night to cut West Virginia’s four-point lead down to one with 2:22 to play?
The Minnesota transfer came up even bigger the following possession, after a pair of Malik Curry free throws pushed WVU’s lead back to three by drilling another shot from damn near the same spot to tie the game at 79 with less than two minutes to play.
Say what you want about Kalscheur’s up-and-down season, but, man, that kid is tough as nails and he came up huge when his team needed him most, scoring 17 points in this win.
Only one word can describe those shots, and I’ll channel my inner Bill Raftery to say it.
“I feel like I kept us in it but like Gabe’s shots were huge,” Brockington said. “They were daggers. They were the back and forth. I kept us in it, but he hit two straight threes. He had the two huge free throws at the end. Cold. Cold-blooded.”
This is precisely the team this program needed after these past several seasons. This fanbase needed a men’s basketball team that would fight tooth and nail to secure victory. Hilton Coliseum needed a group that would feed off its energy and let it fuel them when their energy started to run low.
Something broke in this program in the years after Georges, Monte, Naz, Matt, and all those other all-time greats. Nothing felt the same. It didn’t feel like all the players embraced this place the same way, and many fans didn’t embrace some of them the same way, either.
This team might make maddening mistakes at times, but so did those great teams of the past. Expectations might have gotten too high after their torrid start to the year, but they never quit once the going got tough in the middle of Big 12 play.
Now, this team is a step closer to ending a three-year NCAA Tournament drought. One season after going 0-18 in the Big 12, Iowa State will likely be dancing next month. Just typing that still feels crazy, but it is true.
This fan base needed something and someone to believe in. We got it in the form of a group of misfit transfers who had never been stars at the previous stops and a trio of holdovers from the previous staff.
It just so turns out one of those underestimated transfers might be the biggest star this program has had on this side of Monte, Naz, Matt and Deonte.
“This is pretty amazing,” Otzelberger said. “I don’t want to undersell what we thought he might do. To me, a lot of times when you recruit guys, and then they tell you what they want to do, and then you talk to them about, ‘How do you work? What are your habits? How much do you put into it?’ I’m telling you when we practice every day, and we do a closeout. He’s the first guy in line, and his energy and enthusiasm is off the charts. So my experience has been a lot of the great players that play here do those things.”
“His confidence continues to grow. Certainly, we didn’t expect this. But, when you see what he does every single day, like man, 10 times out of 10 you’ll take those guys and go to war with them. They’re going to keep getting better. It’s really cool to see his continued development and the confidence he’s playing with right now because it’s terrific.”
This team probably isn’t going to win the NCAA Tournament. Shoot, they will have long odds to even win the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City in a few weeks.
But, neither of those points makes this season a failure because this team gave this program and fanbase precisely what it needed.
No matter what comes next, we’ll always have the night Izaiah Brockington stunned us all, including the West Virginia Mountaineers, by pouring in 35 points and willing his team to another crucial stretch victory.
We will always have The Steal — and every single shock-filled conversation that followed it. We will always have one of those moments we least expect when we need it most, and now we will never forget.
We will believe because this team gave us a reason to.
That’s Hilton Magic, baby.