Top-ranked teams playing on the road in the state of Iowa, pay heed: Nothing comes easy in the Hawkeye state.
Five No. 1 teams have already lost this season, and when No. 19 Iowa State upset No. 1 Oklahoma, 82–77, in Ames on Monday night, it marked the third time it happened in Iowa. On Nov. 21, Northern Iowa knocked off North Carolina. On Dec. 29, Iowa upset Michigan State. And in Monday’s win, the Cyclones took down a Sooners team that had just been named the AP No. 1 for the first time since 1990.
And what a game it was. These high-octane, back-and-forth, down-to-the-wire affairs have become rather commonplace in the Big 12, yet each game has its own moxie, its own unique bit of magic (in this case: Hilton) that makes it so compelling.
Iowa State’s win over No. 1 was just its second in program history, the last coming on Jan. 14, 1957 when it defeated Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas Jayhawks. The Cyclones’ win comes at an important time in their season, having lost three of four games to start conference play, including a four-point loss to Oklahoma in Norman on Jan. 2.
“You can’t live in highs and lows,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said after the game on Monday. “This league is too good. You can’t get a loss back, so just live in the moment.”
Iowa State is going to need to do just that. After a trip to TCU on Saturday, the Cyclones face perhaps the most daunting three-game stretch in the country: vs. No. 3 Kansas, at No. 10 Texas A&M and vs. No. 6 West Virginia. But this looks like an Iowa State team capable of handling the task.
“After we hit rock bottom, we really came together,” said forward Georges Niang. “A big reason was coach challenging us.”
If it’s going to survive that stretch and compete for a Big 12 title, ISU is going to need huge performances from its main stars like it got on Monday. Player of the Year candidate Niang, who became Iowa State’s all-time wins leader with 89, led the Cyclones with 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting and played 35 of 40 minutes, a common trend for Prohm’s squad, which is second nationally in average minutes played by its starters. On Monday, Iowa State only went seven deep, its two substitutes played a combined 16 minutes and all 82 of its points came from its starting five.
Twenty of the 82 came from Monte Morris, whose pull-up jumper with 19 seconds left pushed the Cyclones’ lead to 79–77 and proved to be the game-winner. Morris also added seven rebounds and three assists.
For Oklahoma, it was just its second loss of the season after falling in an epic battle and Game of the Year candidate on Jan. 4 in triple overtime at Kansas. Buddy Hield played like the best player in the nation, recording 27 points on 10-of-23 shooting including seven three-pointers, six rebounds and four assists. Isaiah Cousins also added a career-high 26 points, seven boards and four assists.
While Hield and Cousins went off, Iowa State succeeded in holding the rest of Oklahoma’s team to just a combined 24 points on 8-for-28 shooting. Despite the loss, the Sooners still look like one of the conference’s best teams and should have as good a shot as any to win the regular season as well as the conference tournament in Kansas City. But don’t be shocked if Iowa State crashes the party.
“We have bigger goals ahead of us,” said Niang. “[We have] a lot of work left to do.”