Iowa State Rising: Hilton Magic as Daunting as Anything in College Basketball

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterDecember 14, 2013

Dec 13, 2013; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones fans celebrate after their game with the Iowa Hawkeyes at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Iowa State beat Iowa 85-82.  Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMES, IOWAFred Hoiberg walked into his locker room on Friday night before his team's rivalry game with No. 24 Iowa and he told his players he wished he was in uniform with them.

"I was jacked up," Hoiberg said.

Hours later, the magic (and the noise) was back at a standing-room-only Hilton Coliseum the way he had remembered it during his playing days.

The Cyclones struggled to find their rhythm for most the night. "I feel like we were stuck in the mud," Georges Niang said. They trailed by 10 late in the first half. They got beat on the boards by 14. And somehow Niang gave his team the lead on a busted play in the final minute.

Georges Niang makes the go-ahead basket to beat Iowa on Friday night.
Georges Niang makes the go-ahead basket to beat Iowa on Friday night.Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

But with 12 seconds left, Iowa point guard Mike Gesell went to the line with a chance to put his team back on top.

Gesell came into the game shooting 79.5 percent for his career at the line and 80 percent this year. Coach Fran McCaffery would say later that's who he wanted at the line.

Hilton roared. Gesell missed the first. Hilton roared even louder. And Gesell missed again.

Dustin Hogue rebounded the miss, made two free throws and Iowa had a chance to send the game to overtime.

Hoiberg told his players to foul. They apparently didn't listen, and Iowa's Zach McCabe, a 48.5 percent three-point shooter, got a wide-open look.

"I'm still shaking a little bit because I just expected that thing to go in," Hoiberg said. "I guess the fans were loud and the rim was a maybe shaking a little bit and it bounced out."

Iowa State 85, Iowa 82.


Dec 7, 2013; Des Moines, IA, USA;  Iowa State Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg gestures from the sidelines against the Northern Iowa Panthers at Wells Fargo Arena. The Cyclones won 91-82.  Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday afternoon, Iowa State legend Gary Thompson was trying to explain the phenomenon of "Hilton Magic."

Thompson is maybe the only man in Ames as revered as Hoiberg. He was the star on an Iowa State team back in the 1950s that gave Wilt Chamberlain his first loss at Kansas. 

The game that Thompson is talking about on this day happened nearly 22 years ago when Hoiberg was a freshman.

It was Feb. 15, 1992, and the Cyclones had trailed Oklahoma State by 18 that night in Ames. Those Cowboys had Bryant "Big Country" Reeves and they had run the Clones off the floor by 18 earlier in the year. Yet somehow Iowa State rallied to force overtime.

After trailing by seven in OT, Iowa State rallied to trim the lead to one, and Hoiberg cut to the basket and tied the game with a layup in traffic much like Niang on Friday night. Only Hoiberg was fouled in the process.

Steady back then just like he is now on the sidelines, Hoiberg made the free throw, and the Cyclones led by one with 8.9 seconds left and the building was going crazy.

But just like Friday night, the Cowboys would get one more chance.

Oklahoma State pushed the ball up the floor and guard Darwyn Alexander got fouled with 2.4 seconds left. 

Alexander, just like Gesell, entered that game as an 80 percent free-throw shooter. And Alexander, just like Gesell, missed the first free throw as Hilton roared. And Alexander, just like Gesell, missed the second free throw as Hilton roared louder and louder.

"I played in what I thought was the loudest this arena has ever been with Oklahoma State," Hoiberg said, remembering back to his freshman season. "That rivaled it out there when Gesell missed that first one.

"You could feel the vibrations in the arena again."

Hoiberg returned to Ames four years ago because he wanted to get the program back to where it was in the 1990s when Hilton Magic was feared by opponents. 

With transfers and some under-recruited guys like Niang, Hoiberg has made two straight NCAA tournaments. 

The Cyclones are 8-0 for the first time since the 1996-97 season. Students started camping out for Friday's game on Thursday in tents outside the arena. The low in Ames on Thursday was negative-one.

Last Saturday, Iowa State had to rally down 18 to Northern Iowa and win in overtime. 

"I told the guys in the locker room let's quit making a habit of that," Hoiberg said.

Why not, Coach

The Magic is back in Ames. Might as well let it run its course.


C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @cjmoore4.