They snipped the Sprint Center nets Saturday night, this gritty band of Iowa State basketball players who roared into town with a chip on their shoulder. Now, they’re Big 12 Conference tournament champs, once they finally rediscovered the fine art of making baskets and once they got the pace to their liking. “It’s been the goal from the day we started practice,” Georges Niang said. “Even before that, we were talking about how this was going to be our year.” They backed that talk with Saturday’s 74-65 victory against Baylor in a Sprint Center that swelled with thousands of Cyclones supporters among a crowd of 19,108. “Coach (Fred Hoiberg) kept telling us to keep fighting — they’re going to give up,” Niang said of an opponent that was playing its fourth game in four days. “We got them down, and they started to slowly give up. We had killer instincts. We knocked them out with the knockout punch.” DeAndre Kane led the 26-7 champs with 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Niang scored eight of his 13 points during the game-turning second half. “We finally started making shots after we got the pace the way we wanted it,” Kane said. Iowa State lagged for the first 34 minutes, until Naz Long and Melvin Ejim buried big 3-pointers. That’s when the game turned for a team that, after a ghastly 0-for-13 start, made 24 of its remaining 35 shots to still finish at 50 percent from the field. “What was my message at halftime? To start making shots,” Hoiberg said. “We knew we’d play much better in the second half.” Iowa State was fortunate to be trailing by just five points, 32-27, at the break, considering the way it shot during the initial 20 minutes. The Bears rushed out to advantages of 8-0 and 11-1 during the Cyclones’ frigid beginning. Ejim, the conference’s player of the year, didn’t score in the first half. Niang was 2-for-9 from the field. “We knew we’d be better,” Niang said. “We needed to start the second half fast. Coach said we’re going to punch them in the face first.” That’s from Niang, who got five stitches after taking an elbow during Friday’s semifinal-round victory against Kansas. Isaiah Austin, Baylor’s 7-foot-1 post, caused Iowa State fits throughout the evening, an intimidating rim-protector in the middle of the zone. He either caused players to think twice before daring the free throw lane, or he altered their shots. Still, Iowa State had 30 points in the paint — including 22 while outscoring Baylor by 14 points in the second half. The Cyclones pulled within 49-47 after a Matt Thomas steal led to a fast-break layup by Kane with 8:39 left. Iowa State’s celebration party followed. “We knew we could pick it up,” said Ejim, whose triple gave Iowa State its first advantage at 53-50 with 5:49 to play. “We weren’t the ones that played four games (in four days), they were. We can run them out of the gym. Once we started doing that, we were able to open up the game and take the lead.”
Iowa St. Cyclones are Big 12 Tournament champions!
Des Moines Register | Mar 16