Three Big Takeaways: The run ends, but pride returns to Iowa State

Iowa State guards Tyrese Hunter, Gabe Kalscheur and Izaiah Brockington help Aljaz Kunc off the floor during Iowa State’s 70-56 loss to the Miami Hurricanes in the Sweet 16 on March 25 in Chicago, Illinois.

Matt Belinson

CHICAGO — A postseason run meant for the movie screen met its final act against the Miami Hurricanes, with Iowa State men’s basketball falling in the Sweet 16 70-56 Friday.

The Cyclones struggled to shoot. Miami turned the Cyclones over 18 times and had three players with at least 13 points.

But the postgame message in the crowded basement of the United Center wasn’t about X’s and O’s, or how the Hurricanes shot efficient from three.

It was about, and has been about, making Iowa State relevant and respected again.

“I’ll remember these guys for their heart, their fight, their sacrifice to one another, for the trust they bestowed in our coaching staff, for rolling up their sleeves and just doing the work every single day,” Iowa State Head Coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “It wasn’t easy, but they kept coming back.” 

Pride restored

What started as a rebuild filled with fair questions of personnel additions, coaching changes and a seemingly endless mountain to scale of adversity, Iowa State turned in a 2021-22 season that won’t be forgotten. 

As Miami guard Isaiah Wong scored a layup with 2:26 left to play, extending the Hurricanes’ lead to 62-48, George Conditt grabbed a nearby towel and let his emotions pour out of him. 

The teary-eyed Conditt sat on the bench as the clock was nearing the end of play and eventually Iowa State’s season. The senior from Chicago played through a first-round NCAA Tournament exit, a 2-22 season and a Sweet 16 run.

He’s seen it all.

But his season — and possibly his career — wouldn’t end on the bench. Otzelberger checked the big man back into the game with 56 seconds left and left Conditt optimistic postgame about what the Cyclones accomplished this year.

“It was a special run, overall. We signed up for this, we didn’t know wins and losses,” Conditt said. “We just wanted to go out there and play hard and bring pride back to Iowa State.”

“When that buzzer went off, it hurt a little bit because you know the season is over with but at the same time you have to hold your head up high because we quite literally changed this program around.”

From a 2-22 season, a 0-18 Big 12 record and a coaching search — all while in one of the best conferences in college basketball — Iowa State’s assorted batch of transfers and new faces made it to the program’s sixth Sweet 16 in history.

Izaiah Brockington made up one of the many pieces Otzelberger brought into the program in the offseason with the goal of bringing pride back to Ames.

The senior guard ended his season with 11 points on 5-15 shooting against Miami and when he was asked what he wants this year’s team to be remembered for, he wanted the grit and fight to shine through.

“Just want to be remembered as a group that gave their all out there and found a way to beat the odds and overcome adversity the whole year,” Brockington said. “I hope we made them proud back there, that they saw the effort that we put in and the run that we made.”

Hero ball runs out

Iowa State saw two impressive performances in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, with freshman guard Tyrese Hunter putting up 23 points in a win over LSU and Gabe Kalscheur scoring 22 of his own over Wisconsin in the Round of 32.

There was no magic against the Hurricanes.

The Cyclones were led by Hunter and Kalscheur with 13 points each, with the duo combining to shoot 12-30 from the field. Iowa State shot 36 percent from the field and 18 percent from deep.

The heroics in the first two games overshadowed poor shooting nights from the Cyclones and Friday was a harsh return to reality.

The Cyclones shot 35.7 from the field and 32.4 percent from three against LSU and 34.5 from the field and 21.4 percent from three against Wisconsin.

What’s next?

The bitter end to the season remained topic number one for the Cyclones, but the future and foundation laid by this season couldn’t be ignored.

Hunter, Iowa State’s starting point guard all season, finished his final game of the year with 13 points, seven assists and three steals.

The 18-year-old will return for his sophomore season and likely lead the Cyclone backcourt once again.

The status of Brockington, Kalscheur and Conditt remain unknown, with all three having the option to return to Iowa State due to the extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19.

Iowa State brings in Eli King, Tamin Lipsey and Demarion Watson as part of its 2022 recruiting class and will have the chance to become starters or immediate impacts come next season.

“Right now, we’re excited about as things move forward what we can do with this program,” Otzelberger said. “But tonight, all my attention is paid to these guys.”