NOTEBOOK: How the Kansas State loss humbled and motivated Iowa State and more

Mar 16, 2024; Kansas City, MO, USA; Iowa State Cyclones hold their ticket to the NCAA tournament after the game against the Houston Cougars at T-Mobile Center. Mandatory Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

OMAHA, Neb. — No one needed to say a word. No one piped up with a pep talk. Instead, in the wake of Iowa State’s regular season-closing 65-58 loss at Kansas State, the Cyclones looked inward and vowed not to repeat that type of performance.

“That loss reminded us that we could lose,” senior ISU big man Robert Jones said. “That feeling of that loss kind of triggered better basketball to be played. Going into the locker room after a loss like that and knowing we could have closed out the (regular) season on a high note just kind of fueled us going into the Big 12 tournament. It reminded us how that loss feels. And from that, we kind of knew, ‘OK, we don’t want this feeling again, so we’ll do anything in our power to try to continue to win.”

So far, so good. The second-seeded Cyclones cruised past the Wildcats, No. 17 Baylor and No. 2 Houston to win the Big 12 tournament, then handled 15th-seeded South Dakota State, 82-65, on Thursday night. That losing feeling is now a distant memory, but the next time it comes, it will be accompanied by a brutal sense of finality — unless ISU can take care of seventh-seeded Washington State at 5:10 p.m. Saturday to reach the Sweet 16 and drive even deeper into March.

“Any loss like (the Kansas State loss) could wake anybody up, honestly,” said Cyclone guard Keshon Gilbert, who was named the most outstanding player of the Big 12 tournament. “We probably got a little bit too complacent. We probably thought we couldn’t be touched and then that loss kind of opened us back up — and I would rather have it then than now.”


Washington State coach Kyle Smith‘s team is making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 15 years and he said playing the Cyclones in Omaha essentially amounts to a road game. There is a silver lining, however — and he found it at a Nebraska-only fast food chain.

“It will be a road game,” Smith said. “No secret there. We kind of have a little chip. They sent us out here to the Midwest, which has been very hospitable, and I found out what a Runza is — incredible sandwich. I want to get that on record. It’s like a Midwest Philly Cheesesteak. Put that out there. They tell you to eat them with mustard. I would have thought ketchup, but anyway.”


ISU may be one of the eight highest seeded teams in the tournament, but the Cyclones refuse to shed their perceived underdog status. It’s just too valuable of a motivating factor to give up.

“Yeah, we embrace it,” senior forward Tre King said. “Coming into this season when the Big 12 rankings came out, they had us predicted seventh I’m pretty sure. It’s nothing new to us. We love being counted out. We love being looked down upon by everybody else because, you know, the theme for us this year is, ‘We owe.’ Every time we have a big game where everybody thinks we’re going to lose, we always rise to the occasion and show up in full force and win in extraordinary fashion. Credit to our guys just for not being comfortable with the success we have and just maintaining that mentality of us being that underdog and owing everybody that we face.”