Three Big Takeaways: North Carolina completes comeback, Iowa State handed first loss


Tyler Coe

Stephanie Soares gets a paint touch against Columbia on Nov. 20, 2022.

Christian Royston, Sports Reporter

No. 5 Iowa State finished the Phil Knight Invitational, going 1-1, taking down Michigan State, but falling to No. 8 North Carolina in the finals.

The Cyclones cruised to an 80-49 win over the Spartans, dominating most of the game. The defense buckled down and helped advance Iowa State to the championship game.

However, that defense wasn’t enough to slow down North Carolina, as a 17-point lead vanished, and the Tar Heels mounted an impressive comeback to take down the Cyclones 73-64.

Slow starts, strong finishes

If a common storyline were to be used for every game of the tournament, it would be slow starts and stronger finishes. No matter who was ahead and by how much, no one was safe from comebacks.

Cold shooting nights have reared their ugly faces early in the season for the Cyclones. However, Iowa State hasn’t let missed shots stop them from pulling out wins.

In each of Iowa State’s games in the tournament, it was clear that it would take a while to heat up. The Cyclones started both games in a similar fashion.

Against Michigan State, the Cyclones finished the first quarter leading 18-12. A six-point lead, but it could have been more as shots weren’t falling as Iowa State would have liked.

The same story played out against North Carolina. Iowa State clung to a six-point lead, finishing the first quarter against North Carolina ahead 17-11.

The lack of offensive production early didn’t prevent the Cyclones from keeping up the pressure. When shots weren’t falling, Iowa State shot more. That formula led to success, as the Cyclones ran away with each game at the half.

The Cyclones outscored Michigan State 19-5 in the second quarter to nearly put the game away after two quarters. The Cyclones then jumped to a 13-point lead over North Carolina at the half.

Iowa State continued gaining momentum against Michigan State in the second half, steadily increasing its lead. The Cyclones held onto a 24-point lead going into the final quarter.

Michigan State wasn’t going down without a fight, though. The Spartans caught the Cyclones lacking on defense, outscoring them through the first half of the quarter. 

The Cyclones stopped the bleeding fast, quieting down the Spartans and sealing the victory. Ashley Joens, who had been cold on the night, got her shots to fall, and it was over for Michigan State. A 31-point win to carry them into the championship game.

The strong finish the Cyclones showed against Michigan State would have to come out again if the Cyclones wanted to finish as Phil Knight Invitational Champions. North Carolina cut Iowa State’s lead to eight points going into the final quarter, as Stephanie Soares, Lexi Donarski and Denae Fritz all fell into foul trouble.

As time was ticking down in the game, it looked like North Carolina would be the one with a slow start and a strong finish. The Tar Heels came out red hot in the second half, outscoring Iowa State 24-3 through most of the half. 

North Carolina took advantage of Iowa State’s miscues and mounted the comeback as Iowa State went ice-cold from the field. The Cyclones went scoreless through the first four minutes of the final quarter.

With five minutes to go, it was all North Carolina, as Iowa State went down by 4 points. The Cyclones were able to pull the game within reach, evening the score with a minute left.

However, miscues came again and again for the Cyclones, as they couldn’t come back from the hole they dug. North Carolina handed Iowa State its first loss of the season.

Soares steps up

Ashley Joens has cemented herself as the best scorer in Iowa State history, as the offense hinges on her production to comfortably win games.

Against Michigan State, Joens was quieter than usual. Entering the fourth quarter, Joens had put up a nearly all-time low-scoring performance, as it seemed shots weren’t going to fall for her no matter what.

If Iowa State wanted to move past the first round and stay perfect on the year, someone had to step up in her place. That player was Soares.

Soares dominated Michigan State, finishing the game with 23 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. Nearly a triple-double.

If the Cyclones needed easy points, Soares was in the paint, ready to power the ball into the hoop. If the Cyclones were on a cold streak, Soares would snap it with a knockdown three. If a Michigan State player was looking for a layup, Soares was there to swat the ball out of their hands.

It looked like Soares could do it all as the Cyclones cruised to an 80-49 win over Michigan State.

Going into the championship game, another dominating performance from the 6-foot-6 forward was on the way. 

Soares opened the championship game in dominant fashion, scoring with ease against North Carolina. Going into halftime, Soares had already put up 12 points and nine rebounds. 

Another double-double was in sight. Along with the double-digit points and nine boards, Soares also had an assist, a steal and a block to fill out the stat sheet on her way to yet another productive night.

Fouls had slowed Soares down against North Carolina, as she was forced to sit on the bench through most of the third quarter. North Carolina took advantage of Soares’ absence on the court.

Soares finished the game with 19 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. Although a win would have gone well with those stats, her performance in the tournament was a good sign for what’s to come in the rest of the season.

Fouls all around

Iowa State had a tough test ahead in the championship game as it took on No. 8 North Carolina. 

North Carolina came back from a 12-point deficit earlier in the tournament to advance to the final round. As the second half got underway, the same story began to play out.

The second half opened with Soares in foul trouble, committing her third personal foul early in the third quarter. Donarski had already spent some time on the bench as she picked up her third foul earlier in the game.

With Soares sitting out most of the third quarter, North Carolina mounted a comeback that sent the Cyclones into a daze. As the fourth quarter started, Fritz picked up her third foul as well. 

With North Carolina narrowing the gap, the star players had to get off the bench and risk fouling out if the Cyclones wanted any chance to come out with a win. Soares and Donarski hit the floor again, but the fouls kept coming.

North Carolina had closed the game and taken the lead. The Tar Heels finished the game shooting 28 free throws, with 18 points coming from the line.

Iowa State shot only half the free throws, knocking down only 11. In a game decided by just 9 points, that difference in fouling came into play as the Cyclone left with their first loss of the season.

Donarski fouled out of the game with under a minute to play, as Fritz and Nyamer Diew barely stayed in with their four fouls. It was clear that North Carolina was outpacing Iowa State, and all the team could do to keep up was foul.

Going forward, as teams get faster and stronger, fouling can’t come into play. Star players sat on the bench while North Carolina cruised to a comeback victory. 

The frustration the players showed in the game’s final minutes made it clear that they didn’t want to sit on the bench watching their team fall behind because they were in foul trouble.