AMES — Iowa State’s first round game in the NCAA Tournament against UT Arlington ended at 11:03 p.m. Friday.
Coach Bill Fennelly eventually got to bed at 3:30 a.m. after doing as much immediate prep for the second round game as he and his staff could.
“I’m about six Red Bull’s in right now, so I’m a little bit wired up,” Fennelly said. “We have a tremendous challenge in front of us, but it’s the second round of the NCAA Tournament, it’s supposed to be that way.”
For the third-straight tournament, the third-seeded Cyclones will play for a trip to the Sweet 16, facing No. 6 Georgia on Sunday at Hilton Coliseum (7:00 p.m. ESPN2).
It’s a benchmark that’s unfairly weighted in a tournament known for upsets, but one that can hold result in an amount of positives for a collegiate program.
Whether the Cyclones make it or not won’t matter to Fennelly though.
“I mean this sincerely,” Fennelly said. “If we make it to the Sweet 16 or not, it’s not going to take away what this team has accomplished to me. Everyone else has their own opinion and that’s fine. I think as a coach, you try really hard to look at the big picture. If we don’t win the game (Sunday), we’ll be disappointed. If we do win, we’ll be excited.”
He and his team are just focused on winning another basketball game. It’s only more important because it’s the next one. From an Iowa State perspective, that will require a far different looking game than the team played on Friday.
Between a 57.6 percent free throw percentage, zero points off of the bench and just six assists in the game as a team, it was uncharacteristic of what the group has proved it can do.
Compared to the first 30 or so games, Friday was an outlier.
“No, I didn’t watch one second of our game,” Fennelly said. “It was right to Georgia, for sure.”
And as the eyes of the team, staff and fanbase go to the next game, the spotlight gets bigger. Iowa State, in its 20th NCAA Tournament appearance all-time, is facing a Georgia program that is looking to qualify for its 21st Sweet 16.
“I thought we were loose enough and I don’t want to take anything away from Arlington – they played a tremendous game,” Fennelly said. “We did some things that were uncharacteristic of us and that was due to the moment. That’s what this is about.”
Iowa State knows what it has under the hood.
It knows that it can make its free throws. It knows that the productiveness off of the bench has to be there on Sunday. It knows that the three players that scored in double figures and led the team to a relieving first round victory can go off at any moment.
But the players suiting up don’t know what its like to make it to the Sweet 16.
Their next goal is to find out on Sunday.