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The comeback queens: Iowa State pulls off massive comeback to beat No. 24 West Virginia

Tyler Coe
Audi Crooks celebrates with her team after an Iowa State run in the second half against Kansas at Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 3, 2023.

AMES – Down by 19 in the third quarter, things looked grim for Iowa State. At 3-0 in conference play heading into the West Virginia game, the undefeated streak was in jeopardy late at a raucous Hilton Coliseum.

The Mountaineers were the first ranked Big 12 team Iowa State had faced this season. With an up-tick in competition, the Cyclones did not look like their usual selves early in the contest, having trouble scoring and defending in the first half.

Threes were not falling for Iowa State, but they were for West Virginia. The Mountaineers hit nine first-half threes while Iowa State was left going 0-for-7 at halftime.

Trailing at the break by 11, West Virginia was gaining momentum and pulling away from Iowa State little by little. That lead would climb to 19 in the third quarter, putting the Cyclones in a deep hole.

Turnovers plagued the Cyclones all night. The team racked up 20 in total, with 10 in each half.

Despite the setback, confidence from the crowd never wavered. Hilton Coliseum kept the energy to try and help the team spark a comeback.

The comeback started when freshman Kelsey Joens hit the first three of the night for the Cyclones to cut the deficit to 16, which was when fellow freshman Addy Brown thought the tide was turning. Prior to that pivotal three, Iowa State was 0-for-10 from the 3-point line.

“The crowd let us know that was our first three of the night,” Brown said. “We appreciate the crowd, and they really lifted us in this one.”

What followed was another three, this time by Brown, who finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. The pair of threes from the freshmen started an 11-0 run for Iowa State to finish the third quarter.

With the lead shrinking and the crowd erupting, senior Emily Ryan knew things were about to change. She knew the momentum was in the Cyclones’ hands and they had to run away with it.

“It sounds far out there, but once we got it to 10, I felt really good about the momentum we had and how lively Hilton was getting,” Ryan said. “That’s kind of when I looked up and said ‘We have plenty of time.’”

Ryan played a big role in facilitating the team down the stretch. Her 26 minutes was the most she had played this season since returning from a leg injury and seemed to make the difference for the Cyclones.

A layup and four free throws in the final minute of the game for Ryan allowed Iowa State to build the final bridge to run away from the Mountaineers. Ryan finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and two assists.

“More so than any game that she’s played up to this point, Emily Ryan just refused,” head coach Bill Fennelly said. “I mean literally refused to let this team not compete down the stretch. You could sense it in the huddles.”

In the final six minutes, the Cyclones finished the game on a 20-2 run to solidify their fourth straight conference victory, 74-64 over the Mountaineers. Fennelly said it was the best fourth-quarter effort of the season.

“To go 27-9 against a really, really, really good team means you’re scoring, means you’re defending, means you’re executing in special situations,” Fennelly said.

Freshman Audi Crooks had the Iowa State basket to put the team on top with just under four minutes to play. Crooks impacted the game inside early when the threes weren’t falling.

“They were obviously not going to let us shoot a lot of threes,” Fennelly said. “I thought [Brown] and [Ryan] both did a really good job of giving [Crooks] the ball.”

A double-double is how Crooks ended her night with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Ryan and Brown finding Crooks inside was crucial when the threes were not falling.

The win puts Iowa State at 11-4 overall and 4-0 in Big 12 play. The Cyclones have now won their last seven games.

“Our freshmen have stepped up huge,” Ryan said “They were down 19 in the middle of the third quarter and the freshmen never wavered. They acted like fifth-year seniors out there and so that’s a huge credit to their composure and what they’ve done to prepare for this moment.”

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  • K

    Keith Dwire | Jan 13, 2024 at 10:32 am

    Make it a Cinderella Season ✨️.

  • R

    Russ Twelmeyer | Jan 11, 2024 at 6:32 am

    Great write up of the game.