Iowa State Head Coach T.J. Otzelberger talks with a player during their game against LSU Friday, March 18, 2022, in Milwaukee. Iowa State defeated LSU 59-54.
MILWAUKEE — Google Maps will tell you that Racine St. Catherine’s High School is exactly 31 miles from the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
Iowa State freshman and St. Cat’s graduate Tyrese Hunter made it seem as though he were back in the Metro Classic Conference, raising heck all over the floor and connecting from long distance in Iowa State’s thrilling 59-54 victory over LSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night.
Hunter carved up the Tigers for a game-best 23 points, including a 7-for-11 performance from beyond the arc.
The Big 12 Freshman of the Year also accounted for the game’s biggest shot, connecting from well beyond the arc with 20 seconds left to give the Cyclones the 59-54 advantage they would hold until the final buzzer sounded.
Although Iowa State’s offense wasn’t functioning at a peak level for much of the night, as evidenced by their 36 percent shooting percentage, the Cyclones held the lead for all but 56 seconds of the game.
Izaiah Brockington, who has carried the Iowa State offense for much of the season, was hot early, scoring 10 points in the first half before Hunter took over after intermission, hitting for 18 of his 23 points.
The victory was Iowa State’s first in NCAA Tournament play since beating Nevada in the now-demolished Bradley Center in Milwaukee in 2017.
The Cyclones led by as many as 12 points in the first half before LSU cut the margin down to 24-19 at halftime.
Despite several charges by the Tigers, thanks in large part to a 22-8 margin in points from turnovers, Iowa State held off every LSU charge.
“We scored off turnovers, and we knew there was going to be an important for us to be successful,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “I’m proud of the guys for putting that into action. And we valued the basketball and showed a lot of toughness. And we made some big shots, especially Tyrese late. All the credit goes to the players.”
The Tigers cut the Iowa State advantage to a 51-50 with 2:12 left, but Hunter hit a trey to make it 54-50. After an LSU bucket, Brockington cashed a pair of free throws to put the lead back to four with 60 seconds left.
A Mwani Wilkinson lay-up made it 56-54 with 46 seconds left, setting up Hunter’s heroics in what would turn out to be Iowa State’s final shot of the game.
“That shot all came down to the confidence I had from making shots earlier in the game,” Hunter said. “And I knew the guys around me had faith in me to make the shot. We just ran the shot clock down and I put it up.”
While Brockington (19 points) and Hunter combined for 42 of the 59 points, Caleb Grill scored five points in two possessions after LSU had cut the lead to one and finished with eight points, while Jaz Kunz was active, finishing with four rebounds and several defensive disruptions.
The Tigers ended up shooting just 37 percent from the field and yielding 19 turnovers, a fact that made the Cyclones’ Milwaukee-native coach pleased.
“Being from Wisconsin, Dick Bennett had a really big impact on me,” Otzelberger said. “His son Tony, too. I wasn’t fortunate enough to be that good of a player, so that was the only way I found my way to the court. That’s my background and how I approach every day. We believe the effort and energy we put in defensively can propel us to victories and I’m proud of our guys because they’ve embraced that identity.”
The Cyclones advance to likely take on Wisconsin Sunday afternoon at a time to be announced. The Badgers are in a dogfight with Colgate at the time of this writing.
Although the schedule calls it a neutral site, approximately 14,000 screaming Badger fans make that a questionable designation.