The teams that beat Iowa State tend to do one of two things.
Either they slow the game down and focus on defense, hoping to take one of the nation’s highest-scoring teams out of its comfort zone. Or they try to run with it, attempting to beat a roster of shot-makers at its own game.
Kansas State tried to do the latter on Tuesday at Hilton Coliseum and nearly pulled off the upset, going punch-for-punch with the No. 9 Cyclones before falling short 77-71.
“We did a lot of good things,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said afterward. “We just didn’t win the game.”
The Wildcats (11-8, 4-2 Big 12) played so well at times that they may have validated their hot start to conference play in the eyes of some doubters, but it wasn’t enough to remain on top of the league standings against the Cyclones (14-3, 4-1) in front of 14,384 noisy fans.
Iowa State made sure of that in the final four minutes.
Before then, K-State led 69-67 behind a balanced scoring attack led by senior forward Nino Williams, who scored a career-high 22 points to go along with eight rebounds, four assists and three steals. Behind him, Marcus Foster scored 16, Thomas Gipson had 15 and Justin Edwards had 12.
A team that had failed to score more than 66 points in a month appeared on its way to 80. Instead, it missed its next seven shots and trailed by eight before Edwards made a meaningless layup as time expired.
“They made the plays down the stretch and we didn’t,” Weber said. “Up to that point, you think about it, we were 25 for 47, over 50 percent. But down the stretch you have got to make the plays that make a difference.”
The immediate cause for the scoring drought was difficult to determine.
Iowa State players claimed they spent the opening 36 minutes playing at half speed, suggesting they struggled to move past an emotional victory against Kansas three days earlier, and picked it up at the end.
“Our attention to detail throughout the game was a little off,” said Iowa State forward Georges Niang after scoring 14 points. “Those last four minutes we decided we had to do something. We can’t do that too many nights in this league, because the competition is so good. But that is what we did. We focused on what we had to do and got it done.”
Indeed, the Cyclones played their best defense in final minutes with Abdel Nader blocking a transition layup attempt from Jevon Thomas, and Monte Morris forcing Foster into awkward shots. Foster launched one at such a poor angle it caught the side of the backboard.
K-State players blamed everything from fatigue (four players topped 33 minutes of court time) to relying too heavily on top scorer Marcus Foster (he shot 6 of 16).
“We couldn’t score,” Williams said. “I feel like we got good shots. Marcus, the last two weeks, he was hitting those shots. He shot them a little quick, but he has been making those shots. We live and die with Marcus at the end of games. The last two years he has been there, he hit those shots.”
Weber pointed a finger at himself.
“It was a little bit of everything,” Weber said. “A little bit of panic, a little bit of fatigue.…
“I told the guys, ‘You have got to make the right play. I want you guys to jump up and make shots, but it has got to be the right shot.’ We just took some quick shots and off-balance shots. That goes to me. I have got to make sure we have stuff in there so we can get open looks down the stretch.”
Of course, allowing Iowa State to score 24 second-chance points was also a back-breaker. It erased the positives of holding the Cyclones scoreless on fast-break opportunities, draining jumper after jumper and making 15 of 16 free throws.
That was the main reason K-State surrendered more than 65 points for the first time in 11 games.
“It is hard to recover (from those),” Weber said. “We were working our butts off.”
The Wildcats hope to learn from this experience in their next game.
A narrow road loss to Iowa State is nothing to be ashamed of. But it will feel that way if K-State can’t build off it.
“This is when we need leadership,” Weber said. “This is when we need consistency. We have got a huge game on Saturday against Oklahoma State at home. It has got to be the biggest game of the year if we are going to move forward. We have been through the immaturity and the injuries … Now we need to grow up as a team and come together as a team and see if we can make a run.”