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Cyclones avoid second half collapse in tight victory over Kansas State

Kansas State v Iowa State

Photo: David Purdy / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

Ames, Iowa - Hilton worked its magic tonight inspiring the 23rd-ranked Iowa State Cyclones (15-4, 4-2) to a 78-67 victory over the Kansas State Wildcats (14-5, 4-2) earning them a spot in a four-way tie for second among the Big 12. The 14,267 inside Hilton Coliseum played every part of their sixth-man status helping Iowa State avoid a near 12-point collapse and protect home court in a lethal conference where 10 teams rank in the top-25 25.  

“The crowd’s energy and enthusiasm really helped propel our guys,” TJ Otzelberger said. “We are very grateful to play in front of such a great fanbase that gives us that energy on a night where we are probably aren’t at our best.”

Fans had much to cheer for in the first 20 minutes of action with the return of star point guard Tamin Lipsey who was sidelined in the TCU victory with a shoulder injury, and the play on the court. Cyclones' defense pounced on the Wildcats early forcing three straight turnovers (soon to finish with 17 for the fourth straight game) in their first three possessions as Iowa State took a 6-0 lead. A Cyclone team that prior to their offensive explosion at TCU where they hit seven, had only hit at most four in the previous three games. With less than 8 minutes left in the first half Iowa State nailed their fifth three-pointer.

The defense continued to bait the Kansas State offense into the dead zones on the court forcing nine first-half turnovers and allowing just one three out of their eight attempts en route to a 41-29 halftime lead.

Then the insanity began.

Inconsistent whistles from all over the court took over the final 20 minutes making it feel more like a nauseating 2-hour half. The emotions, the physicality, and the fouls all 47 (28 alone in the second half) of them even fired up both head coaches. Jerome Tang declined to go into detail on any of the moments late in the second half when it appeared he was going after Otzelberger and pointing into the stands. Both coaches described the situation as something that will stay between the two of them.

“I think there is a point in time where things are said between coaches and they need to stay that way,” Otzelberger said.

Kansas State took advantage of the physicality forcing Iowa State's offense which looked so fluid in the first half to come out confused and stagnant. The Wildcats could not miss in the first two minutes of action rolling out to a 9-0 run. And by the time the under-12 media timeout came around Kansas State had cut the Cyclone lead down to one.

“We were more like us in the second half,” Tang said.

Each team had flipped-flopped roles with the Cyclones shooting 28% from three and the Wildcats being the ones dictating the pace with their 7-16 performance. While threes were falling for Tang’s group it would be a layup that ignited the spark that Cyclones were in desperate need of. Keshon Gilbert took the roof off Hilton with an and-1 one layup that gave Iowa State a 57-54 lead with 9:30 to go in the game. Could not tell the difference between the fan’s cheers for the shot or their relief that the refs had called a foul on the Wildcats in what turned out to be a very inconsistent second half.

Both teams set up a camp at the free throw line and both teams struggled. A combined 62 trips to the charity stripe stripped the game of all its momentum. Giving fans horrific flashbacks to the two dropped games during the Thanksgiving break. The Cyclones were given a silver plate full of opportunities to put the game away earlier but were unsuccessful shooting 27-39 at the free throw line.

Game on the line, the Cyclones turned to two unlikely faces to lead the charge. With Lipsey struggling in his return with a game-high five turnovers, his backup Curtis Jones and freshman phenom Milan Momcilovic took advantage of their moment.

“I did not think we played well as a team today,” Momcilovic said. “I think we could play a lot better.”

Impressive awareness and leadership coming from a freshman who displays himself as a commanding force on and off the court with a team-high 19 points in his sixth straight Big 12 game scoring in double-figures. Even to Momcilovic though it was not his free throws or his three that were the game changer. Jones pushed the Cyclones ahead to a five-point lead 66-61 with three minutes left with a top-of-the-key three that earned him his 18 points on the night. Jones someone who could not get into a rhythm during most of the non-conference schedule is beginning to do more than fulfill the role needed from him recording his second straight game with 15-plus points.

Allowing a Wildcat squad to crawl back into a game is one thing, but the Cyclones will be playing with fire if they give the #7 Kansas Jayhawks the same opportunity this Saturday when they come to town.

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