Before Saturday, no. 9 Iowa State’s toughest road game of the season came in November at BYU. The Cyclones had knocked off no. 20 Iowa and no. 7 Baylor at home, and their top-10 efficiency offense and top-25 efficiency defense suggested they were an elite team. But if there’s one cardinal rule keen college basketball observers fans have learned to heed, it’s that road games in conference – even for the best teams – are never easy.
So it was Saturday that Iowa State walked into its first truly challenging road test of the season, a trip to Norman, Ok., to face an Oklahoma team that nearly toppled no. 18 Kansas there earlier in the week. The Cyclones got 23 points and nine rebounds from star point guard DeAndre Kane, but lost, 87-82, after Oklahoma staved off a late comeback.
Sophomore guard Buddy Hield shot 8-of-18 and 6-of-12 from three-point range for 22 points to lead the Sooners, while forward Ryan Spangler contributed 16 points and 15 rebounds, several of them key offensive snares in the second half to keep Sooners possessions alive.
The teams entered the break knotted at 39 after Kane and forward Georges Niang converted five layups over the final 3:10 of the first half to erase an 8-point deficit. Hield and freshman Isaiah Cousins combined for five threes over six-plus minutes to stake Oklahoma to a 13-point lead. But Kane led the Cyclones back, and they took the lead just under the three-minute mark after the point guard fed forward Melvin Ejim for a three. The Sooners regained the lead after a layup from Spangler, and Cousins sank four free throws in the final minute to ice the game.
Oklahoma feasted on mostly weak competition over the first two months of the season, the lone exception being a neutral court game against no. 5 Michigan State. But after coming up just short against the Jayhawks earlier in the week, the Sooners had yet to notch a signature victory this season. That changed Saturday. Oklahoma probably won’t make a push for the league title, but it boosted its chances of securing an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. The Sooners were one of four teams listed under the “Last Four In” section of SI’s latest bracket watch. The Sooners also served notice to the rest of the league’s title contenders that playing at the Lloyd Noble Center will be a formidable challenge.
This doesn’t feel like a bad loss for Iowa State now, and it almost surely won’t be one in two months, at which point the Sooners could well have played themselves into position to earn at at-large NCAA Tournament bid. Iowa State might have lost a step in what’s shaping up to be a heated Big 12 championship race, but – thanks to the Big 12’s double-round robin schedule – it will have plenty of chances to make up ground, starting with a home matchup Monday with league frontrunner Kansas.
The more concerning development for Iowa State in the wake of Saturday’s loss is the possibility that Kane, who rolled his left ankle in the final minute of the game and had to be carried off to the locker room, may be out for an extended period of time. The Cyclones can’t afford not to have their best player during the heart of non-conference play. Their upcoming schedule is absolutely brutal: Kansas (Monday) at Texas (Jan. 18), Kansas State (Jan. 25), at Kansas (Jan. 29), Oklahoma (Feb. 1) at Oklahoma State (Feb. 3). Needless to say, the Cyclones would like to have Kane available for most of those games.
Fortunately for Iowa State, the injury doesn't appear to be very serious.
Even in defeat, Kane was brilliant for the Cyclones, and forwards Dustin Hogue (13 points, five rebounds), Georges Niang (14 points, six rebounds) and Ejim (21 points, six rebounds) turned in solid performances. Iowa State actually shot 52 percent from the floor. Oklahoma simply made more plays when it counted, late in the second half, and the result is Iowa State’s first loss of the season. Fred Hoiberg’s team will need to get over this defeat quickly, and hope Kane, its catalyst and do-everything scorer and creator, can suit up sooner than later. Losing to Oklahoma is one thing. Losing Kane for a few games could put the Cyclones at a huge disadvantage in the league title race. They are still very much in contention. To finish ahead of Kansas, Baylor, Oklahoma State and whoever else emerges, though, Iowa State will need Kane back as soon as possible.