ISU men looking for answers after postseason breakdown

Jeff Stell

A successful season for the ISU men took a disastrous turn in the postseason as the Cyclones suffered shocking upset defeats in both the Big 12 Conference and the NCAA tournaments.

The Cyclones’ season came to an abrupt halt after a 58-57 loss to Hampton in first round action of the West Regional of the NCAA tournament in Boise, Idaho. That defeat came a week after a 62-49 setback to Baylor in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tourney.

Through the regular season, the Cyclones repeated as Big 12 champs and finished with a record of 25-4. ISU coach Larry Eustachy pointed out after the Hampton loss that the toll of the regular season caught up to his team.

“I just think we’re out of gas,” Eustachy said. “We were out of gas at the conference tournament, and we were out of gas in this game. It’s a long, long season and we just weren’t hitting on all cylinders at the end.”

The Cyclones seemed to hit their peak during a 12 day stretch in early February when they claimed a pair of wins over top 10 ranked Kansas. After the second win over Kansas, the Cyclones were whipped by Texas and closed the season with less than convincing wins over Texas Tech and Nebraska.

With the loss of three starters, the Cyclones were not picked to finish anywhere near the top of the conference, and Eustachy agreed that his team went above and beyond expectations.

“A lot went into winning that Big 12 championship, a lot,” Eustachy said. “We asked a lot of our team, and if we didn’t, then we would’ve had no chance. We had no business winning the Big 12, we’re limited in a lot of areas and shows the heart and character of these guys.”

Warning signs of a downward spiral started after the second win over Kansas. The Cyclones were whipped at Texas and struggled through wins over Texas Tech and Nebraska to end the regular season.

During the season, the Cyclones were a much stronger team in the second half of games. A slow start killed the Cyclones against Baylor, but they were able to fight through it against Hampton.

The Cyclones trailed the Pirates by four at halftime but started the second half with a 11-2 run. The Cyclones increased the lead to 11 points with six minutes left but didn’t score another point and allowed the Pirates to rally for the win.

“It was a problem we had all season just coming out not ready to play,” ISU guard Kantrail Horton said. “We were too relaxed. We got an 11-point lead and got too relaxed and tried to make home run plays when we should’ve stayed with what got us the 11-point lead.”

The stunning defeat to Hampton ended the career of Cyclone seniors Horton, Jamaal Tinsley, Paul Shirley, Martin Rancik and Richard Evans.

Tinsley earned All-American honors this year, averaging 14.4 points per game and 17.2 in the conference. The most important shots Tinsley took this season were two missed shots at the end of fast breaks in the final minute of the Hampton loss.

After Hampton’s Tarvis Williams drilled a short jumper to give the Pirates the lead with six seconds left, Tinsley drove the length of the floor but was a little too strong on a layup in the final second.

“I was just trying to make a basket, it just happened to come out,” Tinsley said.

Tinsley and Horton finish with a two-year record of 57-11, including a 34-0 mark in Hilton Coliseum.

“I’m just mad we lost but I’ll have to learn from it,” Tinsley said. “I’m happy to have played for this team, and I’m glad I came here.”