If you were too engrossed in Duke vs. UNC on Wednesday, and frankly we don't blame you, there was a small piece of college basketball news that slipped under the radar. On most any other night, this instance gets a little bit more attention, a little bit more pub than it did. But if this team goes deeper into March than maybe anticipated, you can look back to this overlooked night as to why.
Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 70-65. Good win, but why all the fuss?
The Cyclones did it away from home.
Normally, a road win isn't something to get all hyped up about. Even in the Big 12 and even on Feb. 18. But Iowa State's victory at Gallagher-Iba Arena wasn't your run-of-the-mill road 'W.' This was its first win away from home since Jan. 10.
Do not adjust your monitor, that is correct. Iowa State has played four road games since that 74-72 win at West Virginia at the beginning of January and lost every single one of them. At Baylor (by one) on Jan. 14, at basement-dwelling Texas Tech (by five) on Jan. 24, at league-leader Kansas (by 13) on Feb. 2 and at Oklahoma (by 11) last week.
Outside of the defeat at Texas Tech, none of these losses sounds any alarm bells for Fred Hoiberg's team. The Cyclones are still ranked No. 14 in the country, are one of the top contenders in a loaded Big 12 Conference and will likely get a top-four seed come Selection Sunday.
Still … that winless streak on the road was the elephant in the room in Ames.
Road wins signify the ability to remain composed in stressful, high-pressure environments. The teams that usually go the deepest in the NCAA tournament can win at home, on the road and in neutral environments. The Cyclones played a non-conference schedule that was largely home games and even their neutral games were played close by in Kansas City and Des Moines. The one time it ventured outside of the Midwest before Big 12 play was to battle South Carolina in Brooklyn.
Iowa State lost.
"Obviously it gets annoying, but it is reality," Georges Niang told The Des Moines Register this week about the road losing streak. "It's not like we're purposely trying to lose."
No, but the compounding losses on the road left one piece of Iowa State's resume incomplete. There are now five games left in its regular season and three of those are—you guessed it—on the road, at Texas, Kansas State and TCU. It's entirely possible the Cyclones could've lost this close game against Oklahoma State on Wednesday, not won again on the road and still entered the conference tournament as a favorite. They're that good of a team.
It would've left doubts, however.
Winning at Gallagher-Iba was exactly what Iowa State needed at the perfect time of the season. Niang (nine points, six rebounds) didn't have his best night, but made the shots when his team needed them the most. Dustin Hogue struggled from the floor, but still managed to score 14 and pull down seven boards. Another seven-man balanced effort from Iowa State.
That was the equation to finally halt a streak that had gone largely unnoticed for much of this conference season. That ISU snapped it on a night where college basketball largely had its attention diverted elsewhere was just as perfect.
Because it won't start paying dividends until the moment of the season where everyone is watching.