Beating a team three times in a single college basketball season is incredibly difficult, especially if that team is as talented as Iowa State.
The Kansas Jayhawks found that out the hard way in the Big 12 tournament semifinals, losing to the Cyclones 94-83.
Georges Niang led the way with 25 points and seven assists, while DeAndre Kane added 20 points, six assists and six rebounds. Perry Ellis paced the scoring for Kansas with 30, while Andrew Wiggins totaled 22 even though he struggled from the field.
Iowa State set the scoring tone early and jumped out to an immediate 18-9 lead.
However, Kansas responded by going on a 23-5 run in the middle of the first half, which was partially spurred by a technical foul on Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. If anything, it was a misunderstanding between the officials and the Cyclones coach, even though he was clearly upset.
ESPN’s Myron Medcalf explained what happened:
The Cyclones battled back from the run though, and the halftime score was 48-46 in favor of the Jayhawks.
Medcalf and Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel were entertained to say the least:
Ellis had a stat line that was befitting of an entire game at intermission with 21 points and five rebounds behind 9-of-10 shooting. His superstar teammate Wiggins struggled though and had only seven points on 2-of-8 shooting through 20 minutes.
On the other side, it was a balanced scoring attack for the Cyclones in first half, with Melvin Ejim posting 11 points, Kane adding 12 points and Niang tallying 11 points.
One of the primary pregame storylines was how the Jayhawks would handle the absence of superstar center Joel Embiid in such a physical contest. ESPN College BBall pointed out how impactful his defense has been this year on the interior:
Another thing that was worth keeping an eye on heading into the contest was the home-court advantage Kansas typically enjoys in the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City. Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart discussed as much after the Cowboys fell to the Jayhawks in the quarterfinals Thursday, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
It's always hard to beat Kansas, especially in this building. They have the fanbase to back them up. It's kind of hard. They have the energy and momentum from their fans and it kind of takes the opposing team out of it.
However, the Iowa State fans were out in numbers, and it truly felt like a neutral-site contest even with the presence of the Kansas supporters. It certainly helped that the Cyclones supporters had more to cheer about in the second half.
It didn't take long after intermisson for a critical turning point to occur.
Wiggins picked up an important third foul less than two minutes out of the locker room, and then Tarik Black did the same two minutes later. Considering the lack of depth that was already in place for Kansas with Embiid's injury, Bill Self had reason to be concerned.
The Cyclones took advantage behind Kane and Niang on the offensive end. They jumped out to a 59-52 lead after Kane hit an impressive three-pointer and seized the momentum.
On the next possession, Wiggins lowered his shoulder and drove the lane, bowling over a defender in the process. The referees though, perhaps realizing that the superstar already had three fouls, called a block, which upset the Iowa State fans in attendance.
In fact, the official appeared to start calling a charge and stopped himself midway through the process.
Nevertheless, Iowa State responded on the offensive end and pushed the lead to 66-57. Niang started to exploit Kansas' soft defense as the Jayhawks were trying to avoid more foul trouble:
Niang continued to pound it down low, scoring with ease with no Embiid to offer resistance. The only thing that kept Kansas in the game for the middle stretch of the second half was Ellis' consistent scoring on the other end.
The Jayhawks were able to cut the lead to 79-72, but Iowa State turned up the defensive pressure and converted on back-to-back transition opportunities to push the lead back to 12 at 84-72. Despite the flurry, the story was still Niang, as Rob Dauster of NBC Sports pointed out:
Iowa State gradually pulled away and iced it when Niang drew a charge in the final two minutes that bloodied up his eye. It was a fitting metaphor for the physically dominant contest the Iowa State star had, and he fired the crowd up as gestured to the Iowa State supporters as he left the court with a towel over his face.
After timely free-throw shooting, the Cyclones won the contest 94-83.
Bleacher Report's Jason King provides Bill Self's thoughts on Iowa State's performance:
Georges Niang, Iowa State: A
As mentioned, Niang absolutely carried the Iowa State offense during the critical stretch in the second half when his team pulled away.
He finished with 25 points and seven assists and probably impressed some NBA scouts who were tuning in to see Wiggins in the process.
Perry Ellis, Kansas: A
While Niang draws the majority of the headlines because the Cyclones won the game, Ellis did his best job of carrying his team on the other end.
Considering the fact that Wiggins struggled from the field for much of the game, Ellis' stat line of 30 points and six rebounds was very important. He was the only one who kept the Jayhawks in the contest during the second half.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: B -
Wiggins struggled in the early going and found himself in foul trouble for much of the second half.
He has been playing at an incredible level lately and did finish with 22 points, but he only shot 7-of-21 from the field and forced the issue far too often.
DeAndre Kane, Iowa State: A
Not to be overlooked by Niang's excellence is the fact that Kane turned in a phenomenal game.
He was a stat-stuffing machine with 20 points, six assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block. The Cyclones are heading to the Big 12 tournament finals thanks to Kane and Niang.
Iowa State will take on the winner of the Baylor and Texas semifinal tilt in the Big 12 championship game on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.
As for Kansas, the Jayhawks will have to wait until Selection Sunday to find out what their seed is in the NCAA tournament. If they plan on challenging for the Final Four though, they need to shore up the defense from what fans saw Friday.
The Cyclones split their two games with both the Longhorns and the Bears, winning at home and losing on the road in each set of contests. It is fitting then that the tie-breaking showdown will come in a neutral site with the conference tournament crown on the line.
Considering the quality of play we have seen in the Big 12 all season, expect a thrilling final in Kansas City.
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