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Second half domination gives Iowa State a senior night win over Cincinnati

Hannah+Belanger+high+fives+her+teammates+before+the+game+against+Kansas+at+Hilton+Coliseum+on+Jan.+3%2C+2023.
Tyler Coe
Hannah Belanger high fives her teammates before the game against Kansas at Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 3, 2023.

AMES – With seeding in the Big 12 Tournament on the line, Iowa State needed to beat Cincinnati to remain near the top. The Cyclones overcame a tight first half to pull away late and beat Cincinnati 76-60 on senior night.

It was the final game at Hilton Coliseum for seniors Hannah Belanger and Nyamer Diew, as Emily Ryan announced Friday that she would return for the 2024-25 season. Belanger and Diew were recognized after the game.

Freshman Audi Crooks was excited to be able to play with Ryan next season and showed her appreciation for the seniors.

“Another year of Emily Ryan is a great year,” Crooks said. “We were playing for our seniors and we’re gonna miss them a lot.”

Cincinnati and Iowa State traded scores early, with the Bearcats taking a 22-18 lead at the end of the first quarter. An even second quarter kept the Cyclones in the game but still down four, 36-32. 

The Iowa State seniors struggled to get points in the first half, but the freshmen stepped up in a big way. Jalynn Bristow led the first half scoring with eight points, followed by Addy Brown with seven and Crooks with six.

Both teams shot over 40% in the first half and had under five turnovers each. The efficiency was there, but would grow into the second half right away.

At halftime, Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly told his team three things: take a breath, get the ball to Crooks and third Arianna Jackson back in the game.

Crooks took over in the opening minutes of the third quarter. She scored the first six points in the third, to which Belanger hit a three which caused Cincinnati to call a timeout.

“We got off to a really good start,” Fennelly said. “[Cincinnati] calls timeout, now the crowd’s in the game and our kids took a breath and then we just went from there. It was a great third quarter.”

The run would not stop. A three from Jackson and another basket from Crooks grew the run to its peak at 14-0, which put Iowa State up by 10 in the matter of four minutes. Jackson brought the Cyclones nine points on 3-for-5 shooting from the perimeter off the bench.

From that point, Crooks and Belanger took over. The duo scored the final 14 points of the third quarter as Belanger hit a three at the buzzer.

“Honestly it was energy and effort, which sounds kind of cliche,” Belanger said. “When we come out ready to play, ready to with energy, we can really get on a run and I think that’s what you saw out of the third quarter.”

They were not satisfied yet. The first five points of the fourth quarter were from Crooks and Belanger.

Jackson wanted a piece of the action, as she canned a three to put the Cyclones up 20 with five minutes to play. Foul trouble started to set in late for Iowa State, as Crooks fouled out and Belanger finished with four.

The large lead was enough for Iowa State to avoid a Cincinnati comeback from the foul trouble and won by 16 to finish the season with four straight wins. The Cyclones outscored the Bearcats 28-9 in the third quarter and rode that to the end.

Crooks led scoring with 22 on 9-for-10 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds for her seventh double-double in her freshman campaign. Her scoring run in the third quarter allowed her to score 500 points on the season, the first freshman and 12th player in Iowa State history to score 500 or more in a season.

“I’m just really grateful to be able to play here,” Crooks said. “It’s been a journey. It has not been easy.”

Belanger followed Crooks in points with 17, 12 of which came in the third quarter. From the field, Belanger shot 6-for-14 and 4-for-10 from three.

“In the second half, I think I got things going a bit,” Belanger said. “I knew [this was] the last time I was going to play here. I didn’t want to end it on not the best note, so I knew I needed to pick it up.”

The win caps off an eventful regular season for Iowa State. The Cyclones finished 12-6 in Big 12 play in a season where outside noise did not phase the young group.

“We knew what we came here to do and we did it,” Crooks said. “Every setback we’ve come back from. We’ve just shown that tenacity as a team and we’ve grown and I’m so excited for our postseason run through the Big 12 Tournament.”

Iowa State was the only Division I school to give Belanger a chance. Fennelly said this season would not have gone how it did without Belanger.

“It took her a while to get her rhythm, but I think she’s had a phenomenal season,” Fennelly said. “I really hope that when she walked out that ramp today, she really felt like ‘This was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,’ and if that’s the case, then we did our job.”

For Belanger, though her journey at Iowa State was short, she was grateful that she was able to play on a Division I team. She said her parents stayed by her side and were her biggest supporters.

“I wouldn’t change my journey,” Belanger said. “I’m just glad I get to end it here.”

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