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Iowa State completes comeback to capture Big 12 tournament title

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Saturday, March 15, 2014, at 10:42 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, March 16, 2014, at 7:33 a.m.

Photos

There was a familiar feeling to coach Fred Hoiberg’s celebratory fist pump.

Shortly after Iowa State defeated Baylor 74-65 for the Big 12 tournament championship, Hoiberg turned to the Cyclones’ crowd — he could have turned in any direction to find them in a Sprint Center packed in red — and delivered the gesture the way his coach, Johnny Orr, used to delight fans at Hilton Coliseum.

“I really thought about coach Orr,” Hoiberg said. “I know he’s been watching over us this year, and this one’s for him. The fist pump was in honor of the coach.”

Orr, the legendary and colorful former Iowa State coach who died in December, would have loved what happened this week in Kansas City. Cyclones fans took over downtown, and the team took over the Big 12 tournament, winning three games against three teams that will be among the seven from the league heading to the NCAA Tournament when the field is announced today.

But where the triumphs over Kansas State and Kansas were carved in offense, this one had to be captured on the defensive end.

Iowa State had to overcome Baylor’s stifling zone defense, which hounded the Cyclones into 13 consecutive misses to start the game.

Then, the Iowa State defense needed to come up with stops at the end.

In doing so, the Cyclones denied Baylor’s quest for history. The Bears were bidding to become the first team to win the tournament with four consecutive victories. But they seemed to run out energy in the end.

“I really don’t think it was fatigue,” Baylor guard Brady Heslip said. “We’re not going to make any excuses.”

Iowa State hit the big shots down the stretch and captured its second Big 12 tourney title. The trophy will go alongside the one captured by the 2000 team, led by Marcus Fizer.

The Cyclones did not take a lead until 5 minutes remained.

Naz Long’s three-pointer from the corner with 5:46 remaining tied it, then Melvin Ejim, the Big 12 player of the year who had been quiet most of the evening, popped in a three from the top of the key that gave the Cyclones a 53-50 edge.

The next few moments became a slugfest, with both teams trading huge shots and plays. Isaiah Austin scored five straight for Baylor, and Georges Niang answered inside to give Iowa State a 59-58 lead.

The next two shots decided the game.

Heslip hit a three-pointer, his fourth of the game, restoring the Bears’ lead and quieting the crowd.

But Long immediately returned the favor with 2:40 to play, and that gave Iowa State the boost it needed to reach the finish line. Iowa State didn’t trail again.

Both players are from Ontario and guarded each other most of the night. Heslip finished with 14 points and Long 12, and they traded daggers all night.

“It was one of those Canada things,” Hoiberg said. “Whatever you do I can do better.”

Iowa State’s comeback started after Baylor’ s Cory Jefferson, who had a double-double in each of the first three games, hit a 18-foot jumper with 10:20 remaining to extend Baylor’s lead to 49-41.

A defensive-fueled run got Iowa State back on track.

Steals on consecutive possessions turned into breakway buckets by Matt Thomas and DeAndre Kane, who was chosen the tournament’s most outstanding player, that cut the deficit to 50-47. The Cyclones hadn’t been closer since the game’s first minute.

And now they had the momentum and the crowd and started making all the plays. A big factor Saturday was that the Cyclones outrebounded bigger Baylor 38-28.

Soon came the celebration and the fist-pump tribute.

“It was a special moment,” Hoiberg said. “But also a very emotional moment for me.”

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BlairKerkhoff.

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