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Free throws, Audi Crooks’ toughness raise Cyclones over No. 7 Kansas State in double-overtime

Elizabeth Lane
Audi Crooks makes a shot in the paint during the Iowa State vs. Kansas State basketball game at Hilton Coliseum, Feb. 14, 2024.

AMES — As Audi Crooks battled inside to put Iowa State in front late in double-overtime, she fell to the floor and grasped her right arm. Trainers surrounded the freshman center to check on her condition before Crooks waved them off and rose on her own power.

Enter center Isnelle Natabou. The junior transfer scored a big basket to put the Cyclones up 86-84 with 1:36 to play as Crooks walked to the scorers table, ready to check back in.

As Crooks re-entered the game, she blocked a shot as if to say she was good to go as the Hilton crowd erupted. Down the stretch, the Cyclones made 10 free throws in a row to seal the game 96-93 after a hard-fought night.

The main challenge Crooks faced against No. 7 Kansas State was star Ayoka Lee, as she returned to action after an injury sidelined her for six games. Their battle inside lasted the entirety of the game, going shot-for-shot nearly every possession in the first overtime.

“Last year, I was at home in high school watching [Lee],” Crooks said. “She’s somebody that I kind of admire… Being able to play her, compete against her and then win against her team just meant a lot to me.”

Audi Crooks gets the crowd standing during the Iowa State vs. Kansas State basketball game at Hilton Coliseum, Feb. 14, 2024. (Elizabeth Lane)

Crooks’ first two shots were blocked by Lee, which showcased the type of defender Crooks would be matched up with the entire night. Soon after, Crooks tried something different, as she reversed under the basket to score.

“They both impacted their teams,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said. “The thing I would say about [Crooks] that I was a little concerned about going in, is when [Lee] blocks her shot, you get a little tentative. [Crooks] didn’t.”

Crooks and Lee both finished with 20 points, with eight of Crooks’ and six of Lee’s scored in the overtime periods. Crooks shot 8-for-20 and Lee went 8-for-21, nearly mirroring one another.

When Crooks needed a break, Natabou was there with some quality minutes to keep pressure on Lee and the Wildcats. Natabou’s 12 minutes resulted in 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting, with a block added defensively.

The bulk of Natabou’s work came in the first half. Natabou went 4-for-4 in the first half in nine minutes of court time.

“We don’t win the game without [Natabou] tonight,” Fennelly said. “Hopefully she can build on that, because she’s impacted our team in such a positive way.”

A halftime lead of 13 slowly trickled away as the game went on. Kansas State never went on any big runs but methodically ate into the Iowa State lead to cause a back-and-forth battle in the final seven minutes of regulation.

As the game went into overtime, the battle all-around came down to fouls and free throws. In total, seven players across both teams had four or more fouls, including Crooks and Lee, who each finished with four.

The free throws happened to be the answer for Iowa State in the end, as the Cyclones shot 14-for-14 from the charity stripe in overtime.

Six of those free throws were made by freshman Addy Brown, who made the final two of the game to put Iowa State ahead by three with three seconds left on the clock. The moment did not get to her, as she nailed all eight of her free throws in the game.

“I try not to think about that and just try and step up and shoot them like we do everyday in practice,” Brown said.

Brown matched Crooks with 20 points after a slow start in the first half. Her ability to hit free throws after big drives inside to draw fouls lifted Iowa State toward the end.

Big free throws were also made by Emily Ryan, who went 10-for-10, and finished with 12 points and 12 assists. Despite a cold night from the field, Ryan once again showcased her ability to knock down important free throws in clutch moments.

Kelsey Joens and Hannah Belanger were also perfect from the free-throw line. Joens, who had 13 points and seven rebounds, went 4-for-4 from the free throw line and 3-for-4 from the perimeter, while Belanger added to the perfect overtime free throw total with two and had eight points.

The final 10 points for the Cyclones were all free throws that came after Crooks returned from her injury scare. Fennelly credited Crooks on her will to finish the game and be there when her teammates needed her most.

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