The sound the Iowa State basketball team must have heard at halftime of their Big 12 Conference tournament final game against Baylor was surely an alarm clock, because the Cyclones finally woke up in the second half and finished off the Bears to win the championship 74-65 in Kansas City Saturday night. ISU is now 26-7 on the season, and will get the Big 12’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament later this month.
It is hard to blame Baylor for the loss. They were coming off of three games in three consecutive nights, and were looking to become the first Big 12 team to win four games in as many nights to win the post-season tournament. The Bears were also looking to become the first team from the state of Texas to win the Big 12 conference tournament.
For the first ten minutes of the game, Iowa State appeared to be the tired team. The Cyclones probably were wondering if their school had re-located to the Lone Star State. For almost eight minutes they had only one point on their side of the scoreboard and did not hit their first field goal until Naz Long got a three-pointer to go down with 12:24 to go in the half. The Cyclones chipped away from there and whittled the deficit down to two with less than a minute to go. Three free throws by Baylor, though, gave the Bears a 32-27 lead going into the break. An Iowa State team that had lit up Kansas for 94 points the previous night had scored less than a 30 in the first half just 24 hours later.
Iowa State would win the Big 12 Conference final with a second-half strategy that was much like the one they used Friday night in their upset of Kansas in the semi-finals. Coach Fred Hoiberg fed Baylor a steady diet of inside play, going straight at Baylor’s big men in the paint. In fact, the Cyclones did not attempt a three-pointer in the second half until Long knocked one down from the left corner with 6:30 to go in the game. The shot was a big one though, as it tied the score for the first time since it was 0-0. Less than a minute later, the Cyclones took their first lead of the game when Melvin Ejim hit another three to make it 53-50. Baylor kept things close until the final minutes, eventually playing the fouling game as Iowa State pulled away for the 74-65 win.
DeAndre Kane was the leading scorer for Iowa State with 17 points and Georges Niang contributed 13. For Baylor, Kenny Cherry scored 16 and Brady Heslip added 14 points with four three-pointers.With the win in the Big 12 Conference final, the Cyclones will get the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but they won’t be the only representative from the conference. The Big 12 could have as many as seven teams in the field, which will be revealed on Sunday. Kansas is sure to be selected and should get a number-two seed. Also expected to have a good chance at a tourney slot are Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky