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Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones’ resiliency in double-overtime drives upset win over No. 7 Kansas State

Elizabeth Lane
Arianna Jackson and Audi Crooks encourage each other during the ISU vs KSU basketball game at Hilton Coliseum, Feb. 14, 2024

AMES — After entering yet another multi-game losing streak, all hope was quickly dwindling on a free-falling Iowa State team that was scheduled to play another juggernaut Wednesday night as it hosted No. 7 Kansas State.

But through a showing of resilience and grit down the stretch, the Cyclones made magic happen at Hilton Coliseum as they upset another ranked team at home, beating the Wildcats 96-93 in a double-overtime classic.

Iowa State shows resilience down the stretch

After a 13-point lead heading into halftime, everything had seemed to go the Cyclones’ way and it had looked like Iowa State was going to get yet another home upset win this season.

But entering the second half, Kansas State was not going to lie down and let the Cyclones escape with an easy win, as the Wildcats pushed Iowa State to the edge before an eventual overtime was forced.

Kansas State ended up outscoring the Cyclones 48-33 in the second half as Iowa State was forced to play catchup during the later parts of the fourth quarter after leading by double-digits at the half.

But where the true resiliency showed was entering the first overtime period, as the Cyclones continued to battle with another resilient team in the Wildcats for two overtime periods that had Iowa State eventually pull out the 96-93 win.

Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly continuously preached the word “resilient” to his team after pulling out a much-needed home win.

“I kept telling them that they were resilient tonight,” Fennelly said. “Even when we had the 13-point lead and it slipped away, they just kept playing.”

One of the most important factors of the Cyclones ending out in front of Kansas State came from the free throw line. Iowa State finished both overtimes going a perfect 14-for-14 from the charity stripe.

Forward Addy Brown was one of the key free throw shooters towards the end of the game, as she shared six made free throws each with guard Emily Ryan that eventually gave Iowa State the late win.

“We use the saying to stay on our feet and not let ourselves get knocked down, and we didn’t get knocked down tonight,” Brown said.

Despite things looking down from the Cyclones’ two-game losing streak heading into this matchup with the blown 13-point lead, Iowa State showed adversity in the face of a tough opponent who was not going to lie down easy and pulled out a gritty win yet again.

The battle inside did not disappoint

Heading into this matchup, all eyes were focused on the matchup in the paint, as Kansas State center Ayoka Lee was expected to be healthy and play against Iowa State center Audi Crooks who had proven to be a menace, even as a freshman.

Lee had previously undergone ankle surgery a month ago and had not been available to play the last six games for the Wildcats in which they suffered their first two conference losses.

The Kansas State center had been a vital piece to the Wildcats’ 17-1 start to the season, as she had averaged 19.8 points per game at a Big 12-high 67.7% shooting percentage.

Crooks has looked up to Lee for some time now and saw the ability to go up against one of the best at her position was nothing short of special.

“Last year, I was at home, in high school, watching [Lee] and she was someone I came to admire from the five-position,” Crooks said. “So being able to play her, compete against her and win against her team meant a lot to me.”

Following tonight’s thrilling finish, both Lee and Crooks did not disappoint as they each finished with nearly identical stats with 20 points on eight made baskets and four made free throws.

Fennelly was not surprised in the slightest to see both of these powerful centers go at it and put on this performance. He believes that Crooks can one day be the type of player that Lee has been over her five-year career.

“Two of the best post players in our league and one of the best has proven it over her career, while the one on our team has the chance to be that kind of player,” Fennelly said.

Regardless of the outcome that occurred Wednesday night, fans would not leave disappointed to see that these two powerful centers clashed in the best way possible and eventually had Crooks and Iowa State as the winners.

Natabou and Joens provide immense production from bench

While Brown and Crooks went out and performed like their usual selves, this Iowa State win would not have come without the efforts of the rest of the team, mainly from center Isnelle Natabou and guard Kelsey Joens.

For Natabou, she had already expected to play a limited amount of minutes due to the emergence of Crooks, but in her near-12 minutes played she put up a key performance that helped add another reason to the Cyclones’ win.

Natabou finished the game scoring 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting while helping ease the pressure off of Crooks against the best statistical defensive team in the conference.

Late during the double-overtime period, Crooks had injured her arm and was forced to sub out for at least a play, which is where Natabou came in and delivered a key basket to bring Iowa State within one point of Kansas State with under two minutes to go in the game.

“I think [Kansas State] gameplan was whenever I was in, Lee was in,” Crooks said. “Then when I came out, they put another five men in and [Natabou] went to work by outpowering them with her size advantage.”

While Natabou provided some key points in limited playing time off the bench, Joens made a similar impact, but with more playing time.

In Joens’ 30 minutes of action off the bench, she provided 13 points on 3-of-4 3-point shooting while going a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line.

Despite leading the bench with 13 points, Joens may have an argument that she played a bigger role in other ways besides scoring. She collected seven rebounds while also diving on loose balls and staying on point defensively which added to her great night.

“No one on our team plays harder than Kelsey Joens,” Fennelly said. “Whether it be going to get the loose balls or seeing her make shots, she figures out a way to impact the game.”

Without Natabou and Joens’ performances, Iowa State may not be in the spot they ended up in following its match with Kansas State, as the team needed them in a big way and they got it done after their continuous hard work behind the scenes.

“They’ve both worked so hard, [Joens] is always in the gym getting shots up and [Natabou] is always locked in during practice and in the game so shout out to both of them for stepping up tonight,” Brown said.

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