Iowa State’s offensive outburst secures second place in Big 12

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A fan holds a sign for Hilton Magic in the “deep south” during the game against Texas Christian on March 7 at Wilkerson-Greines Athletic Center in Fort Worth, Texas. The Cyclones defeated the Horned Frogs 89-76. ISU fans outnumbered the TCU fans at the game.

Max Dible

The ISU men’s basketball team used the final 20 minutes of its regular season as a showcase, displaying just how dangerous it can be as the group transitions into the win-or-go-home phase known as the postseason.

For the second contest in a row, the Cyclones exploded in the second half, scoring a season-high 63 points in the period as an encore to their 59-point second half against the Sooners in the previous game. 

No. 17 Iowa State (22-8, 12-6 Big 12) rallied from a six-point deficit at halftime, eventually routing Texas Christian (17-14, 4-14 Big 12) by a score of 89-76 on March 7. The Cyclones secured a tie for second place in the Big 12 regular season and clinched the No. 2 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

After his team’s best 20 minutes of the season, forward Georges Niang remained unsatisfied.

“I think we can still be better. There’s a lot of things we can clean up,” Niang said, before adding a caveat. “But I thought it was pretty darn good.”

Niang and point guard Montè Morris were also pretty darn good against TCU, as they added the second layer of déjá vu to the matchup by leading the Cyclones’ potent offensive charge in the latter half for the second consecutive game.

Morris finished the night with a freakishly efficient stat line that included 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting, six assists and zero turnovers, two rebounds and two steals. Niang also dumped in 19 points on 50 percent from the field, contributing six assists and four rebounds of his own.

Transfer Jameel McKay continued to play in dominating fashion, posting his third straight double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds to complement a pair of swats.

“The second half we just really got out and we started running. Jameel was doing a great job getting to the rim,” said ISU coach Fred Hoiberg. “Georges did a really good job of attacking.”

Attacking was the perfect word to sum up not only Georges’ play, but the entire team’s attitude and outlook since a disappointing first half vs. the Sooners in which the Cyclones could muster only 18 points.

The versatile attack of Niang and his teammates that combined running the floor, dominating points in the paint and connecting on better than 60 percent from long range is exactly what makes Iowa State a dangerous matchup for any team hoping to capture a Big 12 tournament title or advance past the Cyclones in the NCAA tournament.

And it is all coalescing as the season reaches a turn of critical importance.

“I thought we just played how we’re capable of playing now in two second halves in a row, but now it can’t stay like that,” Hoiberg said. “You have to come out and get off to a great start and continue to play that way for 40 minutes. If we do that, we’re going to be a pretty good team the rest of the way.”

Iowa State was aided by the presence of a large group of ISU fans in attendance at Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center in Fort Worth, Texas, which holds roughly 5,000 fans and is by far the smallest venue the Cyclones have played at all season.

Some fans may have been in attendance because the Big 12 women’s tournament was taking place just down the road in Dallas, Texas, but whatever the fans’ reasons for being present, Niang said they provided a boost.

“It was really a home game for us,” Niang said. “And it really felt great to get out here and get a win for them.”

While there are no home games left for Iowa State this year, the team will next take the court at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. — dubbed “Hilton South” by many ISU fans, who show up there in droves to support their team.

Iowa State will square off with the winner of a first-round game between seventh-seeded Texas and 10th-seeded Texas Tech. The Cyclones will meet either the Longhorns or the Red Raiders at 6 p.m. CST on March 12.