Women's Basketball

Iowa State storms back from 19-point deficit, stuns No. 24 West Virginia, 74-64, at Hilton

Iowa State Cyclones guard Emily Ryan (11), forward Addy Brown (24), center Audi Crooks (55), and Iowa State Cyclones guard Kelsey Joens (23) celebrate after winning 74-64 over West Virginia in the Big-12 conference matchup at Hilton Coliseum on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

AMES — Iowa State honored Bill Fennelly for winning his 600th game as the Cyclones’ head coach before Wednesday’s matchup with No. 24 West Virginia.

 But what his young ISU team did to conjure up win No. 601 stole the show. 

 “I feel bad because (his players) have done so much and way too much of the attention has been on the 600 thing and I’m glad that’s over with,” said Fennelly, whose team stormed back from a 19-point second-half deficit to beat the Mountaineers, 74-64, before 8,768 raucous fans at Hilton Coliseum. “But the last thing I said before I left the locker room was 601 was amazing.”

 Improbable. Preposterous. Almost unbelievable.

 Take your pick, but any of those words aptly describe the comeback the Cyclones (11-4, 4-0 Big 12) completed after falling behind 55-36 with 6:04 remaining in the third quarter.

 Fennelly was asked if he remembered anything like it happening for his team in his 29 seasons at the helm. He couldn’t think of an example — and neither could his players, from one of the oldest to one of the youngest.

 “I don’t think so,” said senior point guard Emily Ryan, who scored 13 points and snagged seven rebounds in a season-high 25 and a half minutes.

 Freshman forward Addy Brown agreed.

 “Not that I can remember,” said the 6-2 standout from Derby, Kan., who notched 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

 Fennelly called a timeout when ISU faced that 19-point deficit. His message to the team during that timeout and each subsequent huddle hinged on the congratulatory words friends and fans sent him after he picked up win No. 600 Saturday at BYU.

 “The message I got from everyone was this team’s fun to watch,” said Fennelly, whose freshman-filled team is tied with No. 12 Kansas State atop the conference standings. “They have a level of toughness to ‘em. And they remind fans and former players of our 1999-2000 team, which was before these guys were even born. I just repeated that during the timeouts about, if that’s who we are, we’d better start doing it.”

 ISU cemented the win with a stunning 20-2 run that spanned the game’s final 5:51. Ryan started that splurge with a layup and she scored six of her 13 points during that stirring last stretch.

 But Ryan could sense the comeback kicking in much earlier, when fellow guard Hannah Belanger swished a 3-pointer to make the score 55-45 with 1:58 left in the third quarter.

 “I felt really good about the momentum we had and how lively Hilton was getting,” said Ryan, who is a torrid 17 of 25 from the field (68 percent) since returning from a leg injury six games ago. “That’s kind of when I looked up and thought, ‘All right, we’ve got this. We’ve got plenty of time. We had momentum. We’re doing the right things. Shots are starting to fall.’ So once we got it down to 10, I thought that’s when we really started rolling.”

 That’s also when the Mountaineers (13-2, 2-2) started reeling. They missed 21 of their final 25 field goal attempts while the Cyclones sank 12 of their last 17. 

 “When you lead for 33-plus minutes, usually you walk away with a win and that’s the disappointing part for us, is we didn’t find a way to gut that one out,” Mountainers head coach Mark Kellogg said. “But you can’t play like that in the fourth quarter and late in the third on the road in this league and expect to probably win.”

 Freshman center Audi Crooks led ISU with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Belanger and Brown drilled two 3-pointers. Freshman guard Kelsey Joens hit her first and only 3-pointer to end her team’s 0-for-10 start from beyond the arc — and to ignite a 5-for-7 finish from long range.

 So however improbable, preposterous, or almost impossible the Cyclones’ comeback may have been, it was imbued with deeper meaning, while proving what this team could be capable of through March.

 “I just love this team,” Brown said. “We’re gonna go out every night and we’re gonna play hard for each other. I think that’s what makes us really special.”