Snapping the streak: Iowa State takes first win since losing to Oklahoma

Sophomore forward Georges Niang celebrates after sinking a three-point shot during Iowa State’s 81-75 win over Kansas State on Jan. 25 at Hilton Coliseum. Niang scored 18 points and made four of six from behind the arc.

Alex Halsted

Iowa State has been out of sorts in recent weeks.

Nobody can attest to that more than Matt Thomas. The freshman guard watched his 3-point shots rim-out, moved to the bench after the team’s first loss and was told to shut down his Twitter account to avoid the negativity.

Saturday was the perfect medicine. Thomas hit four 3-pointers in the first half, and No.16 Iowa State (15-3, 3-3 Big 12) hung on to defeat No. 22 Kansas State (14-6, 4-3) 81-75, snapping its three-game losing streak.

“I tried to stay off of that,” Thomas said of Twitter. “You just have to block out some of that negativity and just worry about what you have to do on the court.”

After starting in each of the Cyclones’ first 15 games, Thomas moved into a bench role after Iowa State’s loss against Oklahoma. He hadn’t reached double-figures in scoring since Dec. 2, and watched frustratingly as shots didn’t fall.

When Thomas took a pass in the left corner near the midway point of the first half Saturday, he rose without hesitation. Following a 1-of-11 stretch beyond the arc during Iowa State’s losing streak, Thomas’ shot swished through the net.

Less than 30 seconds later, the sharpshooter stroked another 3-point shot. He went 4-of-4 on 3-pointers before the break and ended the game with 14 points, tying a career high.

“When the first one goes down that’s a pretty good feeling rather than missing,” Thomas said. “Just continuing to shoot with confidence is what I’ve got to do.”

Iowa State moved to a 12-point lead at the break before Kansas State evened the score at 50-all with 13:11 to play. The Cyclones quickly re-extended their lead to 11 points, but the Wildcats never faded, retying the game at 66-all with five minutes remaining.

Defense prevailed for the Cyclones as senior Melvin Ejim, who scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half, blocked a 3-point attempt by Kansas State’s Shane Southwell with 31 seconds to play.

“I think we were just not hitting the big red panic button,” said sophomore Georges Niang, who broke the 66-all tie with a 3-pointer, and ended with 18 points.

Unlike recent games when the Cyclones played tense and watched defensive lapses cost them narrow games.

“Guys put those losses behind us. They wanted to come out and win in the worst way,” said ISU coach Fred Hoiberg. “When this team made runs on us in the beginning of the second half … our guys didn’t panic. It would have been easy to do that because of our recent struggles.”

The key thing Iowa State did differently? “Win,” Niang joked, before getting serious.

“We got back to the little things,” Niang said. “We were getting loose balls. We were getting after it on the defensive end and playing with energy.

“I think when we do that we’re a tough team to beat.”

Even more so when the freshmen step up as Thomas and guard Monte Morris did Saturday. Morris played crunch time minutes for the Cyclones defensively and scored seven points while dishing out five assists.

“He’s the smartest defender I’ve seen for a freshman,” Hoiberg said. “He’s the best we have right now. If we need stops, he’s going to be on the floor at the end of the game.”

Likewise for Thomas and his 3-point shooting, which, after starting the season 23-of-73 entering Saturday, was jumpstarted in the win.

Hoiberg was asked afterward if Thomas should maybe continue to avoid Twitter after his career performance. 

“Tell him to keep it off,” Hoiberg joked. “I don’t think he listened to me.”

Thomas said there might be another reason for his sudden surge.

“I think it might have been the pink socks, actually,” joked Thomas, who didn’t shut down his Twitter but rather went into a lull.

There was no negativity to be found Saturday evening. When Morris clicked on his phone in the locker room post game, the talk was all about the ISU freshmen.

This time, they returned to positive messages the Cyclones were accustomed to seeing.

“It was good to see both of us out there at the same time contributing,” Morris said. “I went back to my phone after the game and got a lot of tweets with me and [Matt] in it.”